Dayton is one of Nevada’s most historic mining communities. A visit to the town reveals a quaint and historic downtown. And just eat of the town, adjacent to Dayton State Park, is less well-known historic site that helps tell the town’s story.
There, nestled in a grove of graceful cottonwoods is the Rock Point Mill, one of Dayton’s oldest remnants of its mining glory days.
Charles C. Stevenson, who was Nevada’s governor from 1887 to 1890, built the mill in 1861. Constructed at a cost of $75,000 (a considerable sum at the time), the mill had 40 stamps that crushed silver and gold ore carried over the mountain from Gold Hill via an elaborate tram system.
At the peak of the Comstock mining boom, the mill was enlarged to include 56 stamps and more than $170,000 in modern equipment. The mill was one of three important ore processing plants located in Dayton and was instrumental in the development of the Comstock mining district.
In 1909, the Rock Point Mill was destroyed in a fire, but its owners immediately rebuilt it using galvanized iron. The second mill remained in use until about 1920 when it was closed for good and dismantled.
Today, a small wooden sign at the site offers a few details about the history of the mill. Many of the ruins date to the second mill built on the site, including the cement foundations. Others, such as the stone walls, date from the original mill, which was one of the first to process ore from the fabulous Comstock Lode.
Old photographs (such as those found in Stanley Paher’s book, “Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps,” which can be obtained at nearly any bookstore in the state) reveal the size and scope of the Rock Point facility. Photos exist that show the fire of 1909.
In the Nevada Historical Society’s “Historical Sketches and Reminiscences,” published in 1910, Dayton pioneer Mrs. Fanny Hazlett describes the mill as having been one of the largest in the country with a 16-foot waterwheel and stamps that reduced some 50 tons of ore daily.
Anyone wanting to visit the site today can find the ruins located about 12 miles east of Carson City, just north of the Dayton State Park, on the north side of Highway 50. There is a small dirt road on your left (coming from Carson City) just beyond the mill site. The site can be accessed from the state park via a concrete tunnel that goes under U.S. 50.
Visitors can wander the ruins on a series of marked trails. At the top of the hill overlooking the ruins is a large, round concrete structure that was once part of the mill complex. From there, you can get a marvelous view of the Dayton Valley.
At the base of the mill you can find a small rock hole (it looks like a cave) cut into the rock wall. Portions of a wooden wall and door frame the hole, which goes back about five feet.
West of the mill foundations, which are quite extensive, is a small grove of mature cottonwood — which are particularly colorful in the fall — and the remnants of a small earthen and concrete dam, which once must have captured water for use at the mill.
Dayton State Park is a picturesque spot located on the banks of the Carson River. It has tall, shady cottonwoods, developed picnic areas and a campground with 10 sites for tents or self-contained RVs (up to 20 feet).
Additionally, it offers drinking water, RV dump station, flush toilets, and picnic areas. It is open all year. For park information: 775-687-5678.
An excellent video of the mill site, created by local historian Dennis Cassinelli and Allen Coyle (part of a very good web video series called “Chronicles of the Comstock”) can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-Kg3JhRzxk.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.