THE LEGENDS AND LORE OF
DAYTON'S HISTORY

For more information on Dayton history visit the historic Dayton Museum in Old Town Dayton. For hours and information, or to arrange tours, click on the link to our Museum & Contacts page.

 

 

 

In 1999, the town of Dayton, Nevada, held the 150th ANNIVERSARY of Nevada's first GOLD discovery––in Gold Cañon, where the Comstock was born. In 2001 Dayton again celebrated––as Nevada's first permanent settlement in 1851. Dayton boasts many other firsts in Nevada's history, including being the site of Nevada's first Chinatown and home of Lyon County's first courthouse.
Where emigrants, Pony Express riders and Wells Fargo
stages trekked, 1840s - 1860s.
Pick up a self-guided walking tour at the Dayton Museum (Shady Lane at Logan) 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: 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. In the spring of 1849 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, at the site of today's Old Town Dayton. Blackburn took a bread pan and a butcher knife and went prospecting. His discovery of gold is the first documented in the Silver State.
Commemorative medallion for 1999
Sesquicentennial of gold discovery.
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. Since the Native-American tribes in the area were nomadic, this made Dayton the first and oldest permanent settlement in Nevada.

Nevada's First Dance: The steady flow of visitors led to the area's growth. A trading post was built by Andrew Spofford 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 Non-Native-American Birth: By 1853, thousand of emigrants had passed by Gold Cañon. Among them, Laura Ellis and her husband James settled on a ranch in Dayton Valley. 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.

First Nevada Marriage...and First "Dissolution:" Gold Cañon in 1854 also saw the first marriage in what would become 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 soon again undone when the girl’s father returned. The father took his daughter and moved to California, leaving the hapless miner behind in Gold Cañon.

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 and a portion of another remain as Dayton businesses.

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 remount stop was at Spofford Hall's Station (the site of which was consumed by a 1930s dredge pit). By 1861 the remount station was relocated to the site now occupied by the Union Hotel on Main Street, where it served as both a Overland Stage Station and Pony Express stop. A free-standing rock wall next to the Union remains.

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 become 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 50E.

Volunteer Fire Departments: Dayton's volunteer fire department, founded November 6, 1863, is one of 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.

One of Nevada's Oldest Cemeteries: The historic Dayton Cemetery is one of the oldest in the state. Notable burials are of "Old Virginny" Finney, born in Virginia in about 1817, who is credited with discovering the Comstock Lode and also with giving Virginia City its name. He was one of the first people known to have over-wintered in what was to become Dayton. On June 20, 1861, he was thrown from his horse in Dayton and died. Another notable burial is of Edward Lovejoy, the son of Elijah Lovejoy, the first abolitionist martyr to the Free Press prior to the Civil War. After Elijah was killed in November 1837 the infant Edward was whisked away by his mother and eventually ended up in Nevada, where he built a bar in Wabuska, in Lyon County. When he died in 1891 he was buried in Dayton. Also buried here is Charles Hinton Russell (1903-1989), governor of Nevada from 1951-1959, and the man credited with founding Nevada State Museum, Judge Clark J. Guild (1887-1971), as well as Edward Lovejoy (1836-1891), son of Elijah Lovejoy, the first abolitionist newspaperman martyred before the Civil War.

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.

First Depot Built on the Carson & Colorado Railroad -- and today the only passenger depot remaining in Nevada: Beginning in 1881, the Carson & Colorado narrow-gauge railroad operated from Mound House, where it connected with the standard-gauge Virginia & Truckee, through Dayton, to Keeler, California, at the southeast end of Owens Lake. In the words of Darius Ogden Mills, one of the founders, the railroad was built "300 miles too long or 300 years too soon". It was the ultimate in economy to serve the mines and mills in the deserts of Nevada and Southern California. Soon after the first trains departed in early 1881 they were returning with tons of ore for processing in the mills in the Dayton area.
The C&C Railroad Station in 1914.
The Dayton depot was the first built on the line and was the pattern for all that followed. Today it is one of only three original C&C passenger depots remaining and the only one in Nevada. When the line from Mound House to Churchill was abandoned in 1934 the Dayton Depot was converted to a private residence. Then, when U.S. Hwy. 50E was widened in the 1950s it was moved out of the right-of-way and across the road to the corner at Main Street, where it continued to serve as a private residence. The Dayton Depot has now been purchased with federal "Transportation Enhancement" funds through a grant from the Nevada Department of Transportation. Now owned by Lyon County with a stewardship agreement with the Historical Society of Dayton Valley, the depot will be preserved and restored to original 1880s appearance to serve as the "Gateway to the Comstock" -- a Visitor's Center and site for C&C RR exhibits.
For more information on Dayton's Carson & Colorado Railroad Depot, and our work to restore it, click on Dayton's Railroads.

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 1909 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, in 1862, he was running a mill in Dayton. Twain said that the remarkable Sutro was all business and "had no sense of humor." 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 in Dayton Valley to Virginia City. The tunnel, one of the century's greatest engineering achievements, was conceived of and built by Adolph Sutro, who lobbyied long and hard to get government and investor committments.
The purpose of the tunnel was to drain hot water from the Comstock Lode's deep mining shafts, but unfortunately by the time it was complete the mines had plunged even deeper than the level of the tunnel and, in addition, the mining boom was ending.In spite of this, the project made Sutro both famous and successful. A few buildings and the restored tunnel portal remain, but are on private land and are only rarely opened to the public. However, you can have a virtural tour of the Sutro Tunnel among other locations around Nevada.

Fannie Gore Hazlett came to Dayton via wagon. She later worked for women's suffrage and, in her 80s, 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 as a trail guide many times between California and Utah. In 1849 he recorded in his hand-written diary the first known discovery of gold in Nevada.
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 (1961), was filmed in and around Dayton, as well as in Reno and near Pyramid Lake. Later, Clint Eastwood also appeared in Dayton while filming portions of Honkey Tonk Man (1982). Other movies filmed in part in and around Dayton include Border to Border (1998), Charley Varrick (1973), A Howling in the Woods (1971), and Showdown (1993).
During the summer of 2010 the Historical Society will hold a celebration of the 1960 filming of the Misfits in and around Dayton. Further information can be obtained from these pages or by calling 775-246-3256.



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