Located at the western end of the Twenty-Six Mile Desert is the small community, Dayton. Immigrants stopped there for water at the bend in the Carson River. From there they decided whether to follow the river south or continue west. Hence the town’s first name, Ponderers Rest. In the spring of 1849, Abner Blackburn joined a group of emigrants heading west to the gold fields of California. While waiting for the opening of Sierra passes, he took a bread pan and a butcher knife and went prospecting. He discovered a gold nugget in nearby Gold Creek which was the first documented gold discovery in Nevada.
Prospecting continued in the Dayton area and by 1850 several placer miners settled at the mouth of Gold Canyon. With the discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859, Dayton became the major milling area using the water from the Carson River or from Gold Creek. There were a total of 335 stamps operating in the Dayton Valley. It continued to be the main trade center for the Comstock, and in 1862 it had a school, church, numerous hotels, several restaurants, many saloons, stores, and many lumberyards. Two stages a day ran to Virginia City. Due to the fertile soil and the water from the Carson River, farmers grew fresh produce, hay, and grain. Dayton Valley became the Breadbasket of the Comstock supplying most of the fresh crops used by miners and the people of Virginia City.
Lt. Edward Beale of the U.S. Army tested the use of camels for caravan operations in the mid-1850s. The experiment failed so the camels were auctioned off and brought to Dayton to haul salt and wood to the mills and mines of the Comstock. The Leslie Hay Barn housed the camels for ten years until they were released into the wilderness to fend for themselves.
In 1861, the town was officially named Dayton. Many Chinese immigrants lived in the community and the town was referred to as Chinatown. A surveyor offered to survey the Chinatown town site free of charge if the residents named the town after him. The young surveyor, John Day, later became the Surveyor General of the State of Nevada.
Dayton claims to be Nevada’s oldest settlement. This claim to fame is disputed by the residents of Genoa. The region’s first post office was located in Genoa so the community deserves the title of “Nevada’s first town.” However, Dayton had an uninterrupted population from an earlier date and probably warrants to be called “Nevada’s first settlement.”
Dayton was designated the Lyon County seat, and the county courthouse was built in 1864. In 1909, a devastating fire destroyed the courthouse, and in 1911 Yerington became the new Lyon County seat. Unfortunately, the town’s economy suffered and the population decreased. By the 1950s, only 200 residents remained in Dayton.
Beginning in the 1990s, Dayton began experiencing growth as residential development expanded on the east side of the Carson River. The historic district remains today featuring a small main street, the Odeon Hall, and a local museum located in an 1865 schoolhouse.
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