It’s worth the gamble to say that Kingston, Georgia has more historical markers per capita than any town in the state. Like so many towns, her history and fate are inextricably tied to the rise and fall of the railroad as the main way people travel. The town is even named for a railroad financier, John Pendleton King of Augusta, Georgia.
But for thousands of years before the train, Native Americans thrived in the area. The Cherokee mined saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder, and sold it to British and American buyers as late as the War of 1812. The Land Lottery of 1832 brought settlers in, and many more followed after the forced removal of the Indians in 1838.
A stage coach route preceded the railroad through Kingston, spawning commerce. Hotels were built to accommodate travelers and tourists who came to enjoy the nearby springs. Among those early stage coach travelers was one party that would have an enduring influence on the region: Francis Bartow, Reverend Charles Wallace Howard, William Henry Stiles and Godfrey Barnsley.
According to Bartow County historian Lucy Cunyus, early Kingston had a wicked reputation, but by 1852 was “improving in morals.” In 1849 the Memphis Branch Railroad was opened connecting Rome with the newly completed Western and Atlantic Railroad at Kingston. Thus, Kingston became an important north-south and east-west nexus. A rail yard was built providing a major employer, supplementing the booming cotton market and tourist trade which supported four hotels.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Kingston became a hospital and supply center because of the rail connections. The first “Wayside Home,” or Confederate hospital, was established here in 1861; more than 10,000 sick and wounded troops passed through it. In 1864, after the Confederate Army retreated, Union troops were attended here.
Kingston played a pivotal role in the Civil War espionage episode remembered as The Great Locomotive Chase. On April 12, 1862 Union spies, known as Andrews’ Raiders, stole a steam engine called The General at Big Shanty, and set out to destroy the W&A rail lines through northwest Georgia. They were delayed for almost an hour by Kingston depot agent Uriah Stephens, allowing the Confederate crew aboard the Yonah to come within 4 minutes of catching the Raiders. Instead of trying to negotiate the complicated Kingston rail yard, the Confederates took a locomotive owned by the Rome Railroad and continued the chase, finally capturing the General near Ringgold. Hollywood immortalized this event the 1920’s silent movie “The General,” starring Buster Keaton and the 1957 Disney classic “The Great Locomotive Chase,” starring Fess Parker.