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THE LEGENDS AND LORE OF DAYTON'S HISTORY
From The Dayton Museum Historical Society
HIstorical Society of Dayton Valley
P.O. Box 485, Dayton, Nevada 89403
In 1999, the town of Dayton held the 150th ANNIVERSARY of Nevada's first GOLD discovery––where the Comstock was born. Dayton boasts many other firsts in Nevada's history: it's the site of the first permanent emigrant settlement, first Chinatown, and home of Lyon County's first courthouse.
During the Gold Rush, thousands of emigrants came West in wagons and on horseback. They camped at today's Dayton if snow made the Sierra Nevada impassable. The steady flow of visitors led to the area's growth. A trading post was built by Spafford Hall of Indiana on the banks of Gold Creek in 1852.
Where emigrants, Pony Express riders and Wells Fargo
stages trekked, 1840s - 1860s.
Where emigrants, Pony Express riders and Wells Fargo stages trekked, 1840s - 1860s. Take a self-guided walking tour and see Nevada's oldest cemetery, the Carson & Colorado Railroad Depot, camel stables, the famed Odeon Hall & Saloon, the Rock Point Mill, the jail and firehouse, the 1865 school house and much more. Walk the streets blazed by explorers, emigrants, miners, Pony Express riders and Wells Fargo stages. At day’s end, savor a brew at one of the historic bars on the Overland Trail and Lincoln Highway.
First Nevada Gold Discovery: In the spring of1849 frontiersman Abner Blackburn joined a group of emigrants heading to the gold fields of California. Awaiting the opening of Sierra passes, they camped at the mouth of Gold Cañon, today's Old Town Dayton. Blackburn took a bread knife and pie pan and went prospecting. His discovery of gold is the first documented in the Silver State.
First Permanent Nevada Settlement: In May 1851 a California-bound wagon train carrying Lucena Parsons and her husband George remained at Gold Cañon for almost two weeks due to Sierra snow. Lucena Parsons recorded that more than 200 miners were working the canyon. This made Dayton the oldest non-Native-American settlement in Nevada.
Nevada's First Dance: A trading post was built by Spafford Hall of Indiana on the banks of Gold Creek in 1852. On New Year's Eve, 1853, a dance was held at Hall's trading post, attended by nine women and about 150 men. It is likely that Native American “princess” Sarah Winnemucca attended this dance.
First Nevada Marriage—and First Divorce: Hall’s Station in 1853 also saw the first marriage in Nevada. While her father was away on business a motherless girl of 14 was persuaded by a local miner to marry him. The deed was done, but again undone soon after the girl’s father returned. The girl’s family moved to California, but the miner remained in Gold Cañon.
First Nevada non-Native-American Birth: By 1853, thousand of emigrants had passed by Gold Cañon. Among them, Laura Ellis and her husband James settled in Dayton Valley on a farm. Laura kept a daily journal, recording one of the State's first historical documents. In 1854, their son, James Brimmel Ellis, was the first white child born in Nevada.
On the Path to California: In the 1850s thousands of emigrants passed through what was to become Dayton on their way to California. In the first half of 1854 there were recorded 213 wagons, 360 horses and mules, 7528 head of cattle, and 7150 sheep passing through, westward bound.
First Nevada Chinatown: In 1856, Chinese laborers were imported to dig a water ditch from two miles west of town to Gold Cañon. At times, 200 Chinese worked the placer claims in the canyon. Portions of the Chinese Ditch are intact today, and one Chinese home remains as a Dayton business.
Gateway to the Comstock: Prospecting continued in the Dayton area and in Gold Cañon, moving up the canyon to higher and higher prospects. The result, in 1859, was the discovery of the world famous Comstock Silver Lode.
Pony Express Station: The Pony Express passed through Dayton during its brief life of April 1860 to November 1861. The earliest Pony Express stop was at Spafford Hall's Station, which was consumed by a later dredge pit. The later remount station was at the site now occupied by the Union Hotel on Main Street. A free-standing rock wall represents the remains of the original wall of the Overland Stage Station and Pony Express stop.
Dayton Named: In 1861 a talented young surveyor offered to survey the Chinatown townsite free of charge if the residents would name the town for him. Residents agreed, changed the growing town's name to Dayton. The surveyor, John Day, went on to be Surveyor General of the State of Nevada.
First Lyon County Seat and Courthouse: Dayton was designated the seat of the newly formed Lyon County by Nevada's first Territorial Legislature in November 1861.
First Nevada Quartz Mill: In 1861 the first quartz mill in Nevada was built in Dayton. The remains of the Rock Point Mill can be visited in Dayton State Park along U.S. Hwy 50.
First Volunteer Fire Department
Early day fire wagon with pumper.
Dayton's volunteer fire department is Nevada's oldest.
Milling Center: The Dayton area soon became one of the major milling areas for the Comstock, using water from the Carson River or from Gold Creek, or mule-drawn arastras. In 1866 the Surveyor General reported 19 mills operating on the Carson River or in Gold Cañon from Empire, below the current Carson City, to just east of Dayton, and another 14 from above Dayton to Silver City. A total of 335 stamps were operating in Dayton Valley alone, and when the river was high and all were operating the sound must have been deafening!
Center for Commerce: By 1862, Dayton was also a trade center for the Comstock, for mining camps to the east, and for emigrants moving west. Nut pine trees yielded fire wood and charcoal for smelting furnaces. Lime kilns, still preserved in the nearby hills, produced lime for the brick mortar, stucco, and plastering for the mines, mills, stores, and homes of the Comstock. Wagon shops, six hay yards, corrals, and blacksmiths flourished. In 1862 Dayton boasted a school, a church, numerous hotels, several restaurants, many saloons, two bakeries, two meat markets, a general store, a hardware store, several groceries, drug stores, and a jewelry/grocery store, and many lumberyards. There were three physicians and far more lawyers. There was even a gas company, although the gas itself never made its way to Dayton. Two stages a day ran to Virginia City.
Breadbasket of the Comstock: Thanks to the Carson River and fertile land, farmers harvested abundant crops of fresh produce, hay and grain. Dayton Valley became the Breadbasket of the Comstock, producing most of the fresh crops used by the miners and the Victorian culture of the Virginia City area.
Oldest Nevada Schoolhouse Still in its Original Location: Dayton’s first permanent schoolhouse was built in 1865 on Shady Lane at Logan Alley. Built as a one-room schoolhouse, today it houses the Dayton Museum.
Center of Italian Culture: Many Italians immigrated to the area. By 1900, more than 25 farms and ranches on the east Carson River were owned by Italians. Italian emigrants, primarily from Tuscany, continued to move into the Dayton area though the mid-1900s.
Stop on the C&C RR: C&C Railroad Station in about 1880. Narrow gauge track ran from Mound House through Dayton to Keeler, California. The station was moved to Main Street and used as a residence. It is one of two remaining C&C RR stations. It will soon be an interpretive center.
Lincoln Highway: In the early 1900s the Lincoln Highway was born as a vision of an improved, hard-surfaced road that would stretch almost 3400 miles from coast to coast. The Pioneer Branch of the highway passed through Old Town Dayton to Carson City, the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and California.
Population Wanes: As mining faded the Dayton-area population waned. In 1908 the Dayton courthouse burned, leading to the county seat being moved to Yerington. The town's economy and population withered. By the 1950s, only 200 residents called Dayton home.
Dayton's Second Boom: By the 1960s "pioneers" once again discovered Dayton. Slowly and then much more rapidly, Dayton again began to grow. Offering unparalleled history, favorable housing prices, growing economic opportunities, Nevada's favorable tax structure, and outstanding natural beauty, Dayton Valley today is one of the fastest growing communities in the United States.
On his first trek West in the early 1860s, Mark Twain wrote of the Nevada desert "...the countryside looked something like a singed cat. Even the birds, when they flew over, carried their own provisions." Twain passed back and forth through Dayton and became a friend of Adolph Sutro when Sutro ran a mill in Dayton in 1862. Twain said that the remarkable Sutro "had no sense of humor," and was very business-like. Of the Civil War Twain remarked, "They've fooled away 2 or 3 years to capture Richmond. If they'd let the job out to a sensible businessman, it would have been long-ago accomplished."
Between 1869 and 1879, laborers dug the Sutro Tunnel, four miles long, beneath the mountains from Sutro B in Dayton Valley B to Virginia City. Adolph Sutro built the century's engineering spectacle to drain hot water from the Comstock Lode's deep mining shafts. Unfortunately, the tunnel was not completed until after the mining boom ended. Nonetheless, the project made Sutro a famous man. A few buildings and the tunnel portal remain, on private land.
Fannie Gore Hazlett came to Dayton via wagon. She later worked for women's suffrage and was the first woman in Nevada to ride in an airplane. Her historic diary was published in 1922.
Hazlett wrote of her arrival in the Dayton area, "In August, 1862, after a journey of four months across the plains with a mule-team, averaging about 15 miles a day, my brothers and I arrived at Buckland's Station on the twenty-fourth of the month. This station was located in 1859 by Mr. Samuel S. Buckland near the site of Fort Churchill….We passed Fort Churchill early in the day…. We came on up the river [toward Dayton], passing several fine ranches owned by people who were making big money by the sale of hay and grain to the emigrants…." Both Fort Churchill and Buckland Station are now in the state park system.
Andrew Walmsley, shown here with son Zenas, came to Dayton in 1859. Andrew grew pine-nut trees from which he harvested fire wood for Virginia City. In El Dorado Canyon, he had a "nut tree farm" where he made charcoal. Zenas Walmsley was Dayton's Justice of the Peace for many years. The Walmsley family still lives in Old Town Dayton.
Abner Blackburn, who came West with the Mormon Battalion in 1847, crossed the Sierra Nevada many times between California and Utah. A trail guide, his discovery of Nevada's first gold in 1849 is documented in his hand-written diary.
Hep Sing and Ty Kim were early Chinese emigrants to Dayton. Because of the many Chinese who remained after digging the Chinese Ditch, an early name for Dayton was Chinatown. One Chinese house remains on Silver Street and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable's last movie, The Misfits, was filmed in and around Dayton. Later, Clint Eastwood appeared in Dayton while filming Honkey Tonk Man.