Kingston’s history is a tale ripped from the pages of a western novel. Geronimo’s Apache tribe once roamed the rugged Black Range Mountains, and frequented the lush green valley along the Percha Creek where the community of Kingston now lies. They clashed with ranchers and prospectors who came to forge a new life on the western frontier. Eventually, three million acres of this region’s wild, natural beauty was protected as the Gila National Forest and Wilderness.
In the 1880s Kingston, NM became the center of a thriving mining district that included Hillsboro and Lake Valley, when rich silver strikes attracted thousands of treasure-seeking prospectors from all over the world, hoping to make their fortunes. From hundreds of holes in the ground, dug with sweat and blood, the miners produced millions of dollars worth of silver.
Soon this frontier boom-town was populated with merchants, saloon-keepers, and madams, seeking gold from another kind of digging. But life was not easy – the fledgling community suffered from Apache raids, hunger, illness, and each other.
Spurred on by the fever for shiny metal the town thrived, and Kingston became known as “the Gem of the Black Range.” Visited by the famous and infamous, such as Mark Twain, Lillian Russell, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Kingston boasted an opera house, a church, a school, a bordello (at the top of Virtue Street) and twenty-some saloons. The Spit and Whittle Club began during this period, originally an all-male gathering on Sunday afternoon, as a time to rest, relax and entertain each other with their stories, true and embellished.
Some did strike it rich. But this classic boom town went bust, when in 1893 the price of silver, manipulated by commodities brokers back East, took a permanent nose dive. People left the region in droves. From more than 7,000, fewer than 500 residents remained by the mid 1890s.
Today Kingston is a peaceful community of artists, writers and retirees who value the majestic landscape and lovely year-round weather. To the west, the vast Gila National Forest may be accessed by a short walk or bike ride up Main Street. A longer hike leads one up to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, where the Crest Trail leads to Hillsboro Peak. Hop in your car for a drive up to Emory Pass, where a spectacular view awaits the explorer, just off the beaten path.
The Percha Bank Museum and Gallery is the keeper of Kingston’s history, and is usually open from 10AM to 2PM on the weekends. But you might find the door open any day of the week, as proprietor Mark Nero loves to share this handsome stone edifice with the vault intact, and amusing stories from the mining days. Next door, the historic Black Range Lodge Bed and Breakfast offers overnight accommodations year-round.
The Spit and Whittle Club usually meets the second Tuesday of the month at the Kingston schoolhouse, built in the 1940s. Neighbors gather for a pot-luck supper and to discuss community business, including club-house and cemetery restoration, and the Kingston Centennial Celebration, slated for April 28 & 29, 2012.