Pontiac's Railroad Station, Post Office, Politics, and Potholes.

A great deal of Pontiac's life during the early twentieth century revolved around the railroad station, which was built in 1882. The small, 1 story structure occupied the northeast corner of Greenwich Avenue and Reed Street until 1964. It was moved at that time to 2245 Post Road, where it is had been used as a lounge at the former Great House restaurant.

The railroad

During the 19th and early twentieth centuries, when transportation was difficult, the railroad was very significant to Pontiac's mill and villagers. Oliver P. Fuller, in his 1875 History of Warwick, notes, "...in 1873, the company (B. B. & R. Knight Co.) obtained a charter from the General Assembly to lay rails along this road from the Hartford Railroad to their village for carrying freight and passengers." Fuller tells us that by 1875, "The rails have been laid, and railway communication established between this village and the rest of the world...." While this may seem to be exaggeration, what Fuller says is true as this was before automobiles and airplanes made us a nation on the move.

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation Report K W 1 explains that the railroad station "was a stop on the Pawtuxet Valley Branch Railroad, a line which connected Pontiac to the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad at Auburn and to the Providence, Hartford and Fishkill Railroad at a junction north of Natick."

Freight Agent McCabe

Nearly everyone who lived in the village during the pre-World War II era has fond memories of the station and of Jack McCabe, the freight agent and postmaster at Pontiac. McCabe began his career early in the 1900s and continued it for half a century. For decades, one of the prime targets at Halloween was the outhouse at the station. Trying to turn the building over as their brothers had done was the ambition of many a teenager during those years.

McCabe knew everyone in the village and all knew him. One of his daughters, Monica, now Mrs. Francis O'Neill, recently noted, "I came from an all girl family and whenever we went to our proms or got married all the neighbors turned out to see us off in all our finery!" As she recalled Pontiac, Mrs. O'Neill remarked, "Everyone shared in the joys and sorrows, the highs and lows of each other's lives."

The Mayoral race of 1958

One of Pontiac’s most memorable events occurred in 1958. In that year, the McCabes and the O'Neills attracted national attention because of the peculiarities of the mayoral race in Warwick.. John J. McCabe, the endorsed Democratic candidate, was opposed by his son in law Francis J. O'Neill. McCabe had been granted leave from the railroad station in 1954 to become city clerk under Mayor Joseph Mills. When Mills decided against running for mayor in 1956, Mc Cabe became the endorsed Democratic candidate. As the favorite candidate, McCabe felt confident in taking a very strong stand in favor of getting a sewerage system for Warwick and adopting a modern zoning ordinance.

A confident McCabe was shocked when his son in law took a different stand and opposed him. The intensity of the struggle became apparent as O’Neill came within twenty six votes of upsetting McCabe in the Democratic primary. The struggle and controversy between the followers of McCabe and O’Neill seriously weakened the Democratic party.

As a result, on November 6, 1956, McCabe was defeated by a relative newcomer in Warwick politics, Raymond E. Stone, a Republican.

Lambert Lind

The one Democratic politician who seemed to weather all Republican victories was Lambert Lind, long time Councilman from Ward Eight. Lind's commitment to Pontiac and Warwick's highway system has earned him the honor of having part of Route Five called the Lambert Lind Highway. One of the favorite stories concerning Lind was recorded in 1958. Lind was 30 minutes late in arriving at the council meeting. The reason was that a constituent informed him of a large "pot hole" at Central and Knight Streets in Pontiac. Lind decided it needed immediate attention. The story says, "He rolled a couple of good sized stones into the crater, got a shovel from his car, threw in gravel and then ran his car wheels 'steamroller fashion' over it until the road was fairly smooth."

The story of Pontiac will be continued.

1. The old Railroad Station in Pontiac during the early 20th century was not only a major stop for freight, it was also a meeting place for Pontiac’s political leaders. Here, McCabe, O’Neill and Lind helped make policy for the Democratic party.
From the Bob Byrnes Collection

2. In 1964, the old station was moved to Post Road where it became part of the Great House Restaurant. It has been beautifully restored and returned to Pontiac.
Photo (2006) by Don D’Amato

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