Cemetery keeps Dayton’s history alive
Appeal Staff Writer
“Thou art gone, darling wife, We shall hold thy sweet face on earth no more; Thou hast changed the earthly mansion, For a brighter shore.”
Overlooking Dayton Valley, the cemetery sits peaceful, the final resting place for many gone before and still in use today. Visitors to it walk through a comprehensive history of the lives given to settle the area.
Founded in 1851 the Dayton Cemetery is one of the oldest, constantly maintained cemeteries in Nevada.
For Armand Arnett, the cemetery’s volunteer caretaker the past 18 years, that’s the most important thing for folks to know. That, and the fact that he’s needing a like-minded steward to train and to whom he can pass the cemetery’s care.
“The cemetery contains 150 years of history and predates the Virginia City cemetery by six or seven years,” Arnett said, explaining how the Pony Express trail or “The Trail to the Mother Lode,” still visible today, was also used to transport goods and vegetables up the hill from what became Dayton, to Virginia City.
The return trips from Virginia City usually included deceased miners, who were dropped at the front gates of the cemetery. Thanks to the work of Wayne Epperson, who oversaw cemetery upkeep prior to Arnett, some of those graves are now marked, Arnett said, adding there are also 86 known veterans of war buried there, including some from the Civil War.
Headstones recount the Italian and Hispanic history of the area, sprinkled generously with names of Western European descent.
Parents outlived children more often than not, and those families’ stories are also told.
Through the humblest wooden markers to the most ornate, they’re an accounting of “nearly every kind of marker ever made in this country,” according to Arnett. The stories of the area and the people who made that history are told.
The most famous occupants are Gov. Charles Russell, who presided over Nevada from 1950 to 1958 and, “Old Virginny,” who draws a great number of visitors.
Birth name James Finney, “Old Virginny,” for whom Virginia City was named, died in Dayton June 20, 1861. Valley locals didn’t think much of his passing, as he was thought to be little more than a drunk and brawler, Arnett said. But once word made its way down the hill from V.C. about the importance of this man to the Comstock, he was exhumed and given a place of honor in the cemetery.
Thanks in great part to the efforts of local newspaper woman and history buff Laura Tennant, funds were raised and Old Virginny’s plot is now marked complete with his life story there.
A garden in memory of Chris Chistofferson, funded by his father Judge Johnson sits at the top and features a meandering path with benches, a lighted cross and at the end, a gazebo.
A chapel, where onsite services are held, sits below, and was constructed thanks to a generous donation by Bob Milz. A separate garden area has been set aside to honor veterans. Plants and materials have been provided through the years by Dayton Valley Nursery, Dayton Kiwanis, FitzHenry’s Funeral Home and other community businesses, organizations and individuals.
The garden and chapel areas were designed by Arnett’s wife, Jessie, and add a special touch to what would otherwise be barren terrain.
“We are proud of this place and the work that’s been done,” Arnett said. “Jessie, when she was able, just had a natural touch for designing, and we spent many hours out here working together.”
Arnett added that without the early stewardship of May Giometti, whose family helped settle the area, and her volunteers, the row would have been even more difficult to hoe.
“When May and the others started coming up here, the place was pretty much overgrown with sagebrush,” Arnett said. “She kept at it for years and still keeps flowers on the graves.”
All Lyon County cemeteries were at one time overseen by individual boards and were given an annual budget of about $14,000 for upkeep. Today, no money is allotted annually, there are no more boards, and upkeep has become more of a community service endeavor.
The county pays the electric and the water, but beyond that, maintenance falls to others including young people in juvenile detention, under the direction of Marv Lusk, Arnett said, adding there’s always more to do.
“I took over this job from Wayne when, (while critically ill) he asked if I would, and it’s not a decision I made lightly,” Arnett said. “This job is a lot of work, and I thought long and hard about taking it on.”
He’s happy for the choice he made, but is now looking for another to take over.
“I’ll do this as long as I can, but I’m getting up there and need to train someone else,” Arnett said. “I’m fearful there will be no one to take care once I can’t.”
Anyone who may be interested in volunteering time, materials or finances to the upkeep of the cemetery, or who might be willing to train under Arnett, is asked to call him at 246-3344.
• Contact reporter Karel Ancona-Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 246-4000.