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Kingston, California and the Kingston Grade; ghost town on the Kings River

In the western outskirts of the village of Laton along Mount Whitney Avenue is a street blade indicating the presence a narrow one-lane street known as the "Old Kingston Grade."


The Old Kingston Grade is the location of a previous bridge crossing of the Kings River into what was once known as the village of Kingston.  The Old Kingston Grade approaches the Kings River along the north bank in Fresno County, Kingston would be roughly located along what is now Douglas Avenue on the south bank.


Kingston was the location of Whitmore's Ferry which was established as the first tolled crossing of the Kings River.  Kingston quickly sprung up around Whitmore's by 1856 which just so happened to be the first year that Fresno County was split from Tulare County.  Kingston and Whitmore's Ferry were located on what was the eastern route the El Camino Viejo which was also known as the Old Los Angeles Trail.  The El Camino Viejo ran from San Francisco Bay south to Los Angeles and was established back in the late 1700s.  At the time the El Camino Viejo was created San Joaquin Valley was an unsettled frontier inland wetland.  The western route of the El Camino Viejo traversed the foothills of the Diablo Range roughly along the corridor California State Route 33 now occupies.  The Eastern Route of the El Camino Viejo split along the west shore of Tulare Lake to the crossing of the Kings River in what became Kingston.

By 1853 a new route in the Sierra Foothills known as the Stockton-Los Angeles Road was created to take advantage of the higher terrain bypassing the marsh lands of San Joaquin Valley.  The Stockton Los Angeles Road was also favored due to the close proximity to the mining claims of the Kern River Gold Rush.  The Stockton-Los Angeles Road absorbed much of the previous El Camino Viejo south of San Joaquin Valley.  I wrote about the Stockton-Los Angeles Road previously which can be found here.

Ghost Town Tuesday; Millerton, CA and the Stockton-Los Angeles Road

When Kingston was settled by 1856 it was the only true civilization between Millerton to the north on the San Joaquin River and Visalia to the southeast.  This map from 1865 map of the western United States shows Kingston along the Stockton-Los Angeles Road.

1865 Map of the Western United States

Kingston was picked as a location along the Butterfield Overland Mail Route in 1858.  Despite the ferry operating under a Tulare County license it was discovered in a survey in late 1859 that Kingston was in fact in Fresno County.  Kingston was By 1873 the first bridge was built along what is now the Old Kingston Grade.  Kingston was the site of a large raid the same year and gradually fell into decline when the Santa Fe Railroad bypassed it to east along the Kings River.   By 1890 postal service was moved from Kingston north across the Kings River to Lissis and the final building from the town was gone by the 1930s.  At some point likely in the 1880s or 1890s the original Kingston Bridge had been replaced by a steel truss that no longer exists.

This Fresno County map from 1891 shows the Old Kingston Grade still in use:

1891 Fresno County Sectional Map

With a street map of Kingston.

1891 Fresno County Town Map

Oddly civilization really never left the Kingston area, it just moved closer to the railroad.  By the first decade of the 20th century postal service was moved from Lissis  to Laton which was located on the Santa Fe Railroad line which had bypassed Kingston.  Although rail service no longer stops in Laton the trains still pass through along Fowler Avenue.


Fowler Avenue even series of old culverts between Laton north to Fowler such as this one immediately north of downtown Laton.  Fresno County built much of their culverts over the local canals in the late 1940s.



There are various old structures still present in Laton on De Woody Street.








Today the crossing the Kings River is on Fowler Avenue as it leaves Fresno County southbound entering Kings County as 12th 3/4 Avenue.  The Kingston Bridge and Old Kingston Grade are about half a mile to the west of the current bridge.



I'm not sure when the current bridge was built but there has been a road crossing at the location at least since 1935 as it can be seen under Kings County Maintenance of a California Divisions Highway Map.

1935 California Division of Highways Kings County Map

On the Kings County side the Kingston Bridge would have crossed roughly where the location of this sign is along Douglas Avenue.


Both Kings and Fresno Counties have parks along the Kings River but both are shut down.  The Kings County side supposedly was closed due to budget cuts and the Fresno County side is supposed to open next March. 


There was a historic marker on the Kings County side which was behind a fence I couldn't access.


Supposedly there are remains of both iterations of the Kingston Bridge that can be found when the Kings River is dry.  The following link from the Fresno Bee details the history of Kingston and photos of the ruins of the bridge pilings.

Fresno Bee on Kingston

The following links offer some additional insight to the history of both Kingston and Laton.

Latoncalifornia.org on Kingston

Latoncalifornia.org on Laton


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