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Kingston’s history is a tale ripped from the pages of a western novel. Geronimo’s Apache tribe once roamed the rugged and beautiful Gila wilderness, including the lush creek-fed valley where Kingston was founded. The Apache clashed with prospectors and ranchers who came to forge a new life on the western frontier. Eventually, more than three million acres of this region’s wild, natural beauty was preserved and protected as the Gila National Forest and Wilderness.
During the 1880s, Kingston became the center of a thriving mining district that included Hillsboro and Lake Valley, when rich silver strikes attracted thousands of prospectors from all over the world to the region, seeking their fortunes. With blood, sweat and tears, miners dug hundreds of holes in the ground, and produced millions of dollars worth of silver.
Soon this wild-west boom-town was populated with merchants, saloon-keepers, and madams. Kingston boasted an opera house, a church, a school, a bordello (on Virtue Street), three newspapers and twenty-some saloons. Visited by the famous and infamous, such as Mark Twain, Lillian Russell, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Kingston became known as “the Gem of the Black Range.”
But life was not easy – the fledgling community suffered from Apache raids, hunger, illness, and each other. Some did strike it rich, some were swindled, and when silver was demonetized in 1893, the price of silver collapsed, and the boom went bust. From thousands of residents, just a few hundred remained in Kingston by the turn of the century.
In 1924, an act of Congress declared the magnificent forested mountains to the west “The Gila Wilderness,” as the world’s first designated wilderness. Today Kingston is a gateway into the Gila National Forest, Wilderness, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
A walking tour of Kingston includes the handsome stone Victorio Hotel and the brick Assay Office (now both private homes) and the Percha Bank Museum and Gallery, open on weekends and by appointment. The Black Range Lodge bed-and-breakfast offers comfortable accommodations, including stargazing from an outdoor hot tub, with massage and spa treatments available.
To the west, the Gila National Forest is just a short walk or mountain bike ride up Main Street. A longer hike along the Crest Trail leads to Hillsboro Peak. Hop in your car for a scenic drive up to Emory Pass, where a spectacular view awaits the explorer, just off the beaten path.