Kingston is a small mountain town at the very foot of the eastern slope of the Black Range along NM-152.  Its deserved reputation far exceeds its population, however.  This is the gateway to many trails into the Black Range, the home of the Black Range Lodge, classes on Alternative & Natural Building techniques (see the lodge and, and the Kingston Schoolhouse Museum.  Photographs of Kingston, including historic (and in some cases retakes of historic) photographs are found in the photo gallery.

A Walking Tour brochure has been developed by Susan D. Roebuck (see below) - the brochure is a tri-fold, shown as two pages here.


King 2
King 1

Building classes and music events dominate the summer and snow is to be found in the winter.  The Black Range Lodge has an excellent outdoor stage and hosts music events during the summer months.

Learning strawbail building techniques in Kingston.
May 8, 2010

The Kingston School House Museum

The museum is located at 8 Water Street in Kingston and is currently open by appointment only (575-895-5501 or 575-895-5169).  Its collection continues to grow and will soon outstrip its present facilities, success can bring problems, but in the hills of the Black Range, problems are an impetus to action, watch (and help) this facility grow.

The Kingston Opera House

The Kingston what?  If you thought that Kingston was just a mining town with lots of miners and a few cow-boys, you may wonder what need it had for an Opera House.  But most towns of the early west had an Opera House.  Rethink the definition, think community center instead.  A place where people could meet, local music and plays could be performed, and traveling shows could be staged.  An Opera House brought respectability and served a useful function. And Kingston had one (see the photo and photo detail below) in the center of town.

The Kingston School House Museum is busy building its collection, most recently with a significant contribution by the Whitham family.  The Whithams lived in Kingston from the late 1880’s to the mid 1890’s and were part owners of, and operators of, the Hillsboro - Kingston Toll Road.

J. D. Whitham kept a personal journal for his entire life, and it is proving to be the source of much information about the day-to-day workings of Kingston during the later part of the 1800’s.  But it has a lot of gaps.  (Those interested in the weather of the period will find it very useful.)  For instance, he does not mention the reading of “The Bed Rock Pitches, or the Dying Miner” as part of the February 20, 1892 “programme” at the Kingston Opera House (see below).  But, in an entry dated January 11, 1890, he notes “Acted ‘Brabantio’ for the Guild in Othello.”

The people of the old west did not work all the time; they sought all forms of entertainment.  Drinking, gambling, and whoring entertained a lot of people and provided the livelihood for many more.  But other forms of entertainment were also prevalent; readings, town hall meetings, music, dances, plays (local and traveling) were all part of the daily life of Kingston and the rest of the old west.

kingston 2

In some ways, not much has changed in the 126 years since Whitham did his reading.  We still write and put on plays, we still have jam sessions across from the post office, we still attend home grown and traveling music shows.  We still entertain ourselves.

Thanks to Barb Lovell, the curator of the Kingston School House museum for making this material available.

Percha City or Kingston?

The “Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and Arizona Gazetteer and Business Directory 1884-1885” described Kingston as (p. 321), see right:

You might think that something as simple as a town’s name would be well documented.  But that is not always the case and often the origin of the town’s name is wrapped in mythology.  In the case of Kingston, Willard Steinsick (see below) asserted that the town was originally founded as Percha City and then renamed.  Other sources (“The Mines of Kingston New Mexico” (.pdf at prior link, online magazine at this link) edited by Charles Greene in 1883) clearly distinguish between the sites of Kingston and Percha City. (p. 4 & p. 11).  This error is repeated in the Kingston entry on Wikipedia.  Not an infrequent occurrence in the new west.  The Sierra County tourism site for Kingston also includes a number of errors including an image of Hillsboro on the Kingston page and the assertion that Mark Twain visited the town.


The report by Steinsick, The English Work of the MEC in Hillsboro, Lake Valley, & Kingston, (New Mexico Conference - United Methodist Historical Journal - Vol. 2 2008 [November 2008]) (.pdf version at prior link, online magazine version at this link) is suspect on several points, but given that, he reports that Percha City was founded in 1882, after the creek in which silver had been discovered.  Willard Steinsick (p. 25) states that the population of the town in 1882 was about 1,800 and that it grew to about 7,000.  (Editor: Population figures for the towns in the Black Range are generally in dispute.)  The town’s name was changed to Kingston in recognition of the Iron King mine.  Steinsick (p. 25) reports that during 1885-1886 Kingston has “enjoyed a great boom in silver mining, over $300,000 dollars having been taken from one mine within six months.  It has a present population of about 1200...(note the apparent disparity in population estimates made by Steinsick on one page)...and not a preacher of the gospel living in the country.”

The legal complexity of mining is exemplified by this map of the claims in the Kingston area, end on end, surrounded, and adjacent - difficult to tell apart, especially on the ground.  More information about mining in the area is available on the Kingston Mining District page and links from that portal.  Workers at the Lady Franklin Mine are shown above right.

mining claims in kingston


Society is a combination of cultural elements - even in mining towns.  The “History of New Mexico Spanish and English Missions of the Methodist Church from 1850 to 1910” by Thomas Harwood is a decent source of information about the activities of that religious order in the area.  (Published December 31, 1910) Another source, “The English Work of the MEC in Hillsboro, Lake Valley, & Kingston” by Rev. Willard Steinsick, 2008 starts with:  “In the late 1800’s the mining camps in the Black Range of southern New Mexico were wild places where you might run into the likes of Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and Black Jack Ketchem, known visitors to Kingston.  On Virtue Street in Kingston, rather than a church, you would find the brothel.  The nearby communities of Hillsboro and Lake Valley were hardly more civilized.”  Whether or not Cassidy or the Kid ever visited Kingston is unknown (they typically did not announce their presence).

In 1884 J. A. Hardenbrook was employed at Hillsboro and Kingston and in 1886, N. W. Chase was appointed preacher in Kingston “where a small Sunday School of about 45 students had already been created.  Without a building Brother Chase had to preach in a lodgeroom, or schoolroom as opportunity afforded.  Among the people there was little observance of the Sabbath, or regard for religion. (Steinsick, p. 26)   In 1888 (p. 79) it was reported that “At Kingston, Brother Chase is doing well...(and at p. 83) Early in the year the Board of Church Extension came to his aid with $500 as a donation and he built a stone church 30x50 feet, at a cost of about $1,200, this was not finished for dedication until the next year.”  He was transferred in 1897. (p. 224)  The Plat for the Townsite of Kingston (1887) is shown below.

kingston town site survey 1887

Steinsick (p. 26) reports that “One legendary story is that Sarah Jane Orchard, known as Sadie to her patrons, who ran a brothel in Kingston, sent her girls out to the saloons to collect money, raising $1,500 to build the first church in Kingston.  ‘The structure went up and the opening services were held.  Sadie and her “soiled doves” attended but were promptly snubbed by proper citizens.  She never again entered the church.’ It seems likely that this was the Methodist Episcopal Church, but the evidence is inconclusive.”  (Editor: Note the discrepancies in the purported cost of the church and source(s) of construction finances -- from reports of the same church.) 

Chase was injured during construction of the church (pp 26-27, Steinsick) but by September 1889 the church was finished on Kingston’s Main Street and a congregation of 15 was attending.  Church reports noted that “the work has been slow, and at times, it seemed as if the gospel seed was doomed to rot in the soil at Kingston, but of late, it has been springing up.”

Overview of Kingston

A photograph of Kingston from this period is shown above.

In 1891 (p.206) Charles V. Owen was pastor in Kingston having replaced Chase who was suffering from personal financial problems.  Shortly after his appointment, “some complaints soon arose against Charles Owen, which led to an investigation.  Upon closer examination they discovered that Charles Owen lacked the proper credentials to be a pastor, and may not have ever been a member of the Methodist Church.  He was quickly dismissed.” (Steinsick p. 27)  Chase returned as pastor for a short period but then moved to Las Cruces.

In 1892 (p. 219) Rev. Charles L. Bovard reported that there had been four conversions to the church in a revival in Kingston.

At this time Hillsboro was County Seat and the new pastor in the area, Rev. Henry Carlson served both the Kingston and Hillsboro Communities.  In 1893, the school at Kingston which had been using the stone church moved into its own building (Steinsick, p. 28) and the church was “reseated” and rededicated.

In 1890, The Sherman Silver Purchase Act had been enacted, it required the United States to buy silver with notes that could be redeemed for either silver or gold.  Effectively the price of over produced silver was supported by US notes (and gold).  In 1893 a financial crisis in the railroad industry led to a run on banks as holders of US notes demanded gold - soon they were joined by investors from around the world.  The Act was repealed in 1893 to prevent the exhaustion of the gold reserves and the price of silver plummeted.  As did the economies of the silver mining communities of the west, like Kingston and Lake Valley. 

There followed a period of “supply pastors” like F. M. Day and J. E. Kirkpatrick.  In a church report of 1896 it was noted that ‘when (Kirkpatrick) took charge of this work he found but little of the spirit of Methodism there.’ (Kingston) ‘A sort of go-as-you-please spirt prevailed.’  A sure sign of the general decline in the community was the significant number of “removals” (from church roosters) which were occurring at this time.  Kirkpatrick who was ill returned to his home in Michigan. (Steinsick p. 29)

In 1897 J. A. Mussell, from Oklahoma, was appointed to Las Cruces, Kingston, and Hillsboro. (Harwood, p. 301)  He continued through at least 1900 in that capacity (Harwood, p. 411).  During this period the Epworth League was active in both Kingston and Hillsboro.  But “by 1899, however, ...empty houses and deserted streets and idle machinery...(in Kingston and Hillsboro were reported) in the midst of such an economic downturn the charge was left to be supplied.” (Steinsick, p. 30)

In 1900 (Harwood, p. 320) Superintendent A. P. Morrison reported that “Hillsboro and Kingston work was left to be supplied.  Immediately after the Conference I appointed Rev. Henry Van Valkenburg, a local preacher, and told him he was going to the hardest field in the Conference...”

In 1901 church reports stated that “At Kingston, almost the whole church and town are gone; one member in the town remains.  The property is kept in good condition for the board of church extension, but it seems no longer possible to keep up regular services period.  What can be done remains to be seen, but the outlook is not encouraging.” (Steinsick, pp. 28-29)

By 1904 the Methodist Church was sending someone “up for a day or two every quarter” and that by 1905 “the inhabitants of Kingston, Hillsboro, and Lake Valley combined would now ‘only make a small village’.  (Steinsick, p. 30)


The Kingston post office closed in 1957 only three years after the post office in Lake Valley closed.


© Robert Barnes 2018-2023