Dayton’s early years marked by struggles over water
Dayton Historical Society
Early on, Dayton had many problems with water in town. There were weeks when the town was without water, according to Emma Nevada Loftus’ diaries.
For the most part, the town’s water was supplied by a ditch dug by the Chinese circa 1856. It led to a reservoir on the hill below Gold Canyon and above the Bluestone Building (today’s Justice Court and Dayton sheriff’s substation). The ditch was constructed to carry water from the Carson River to miners prospecting in the canyon where Nevada’s first gold was discovered in 1849.
Anyway, the demand for water by Italian farmers sometimes left the town without water since they turned the water from the river into their ditches to irrigate the fields. Emma notes it caused a certain amount of hard feelings, but little could be done about it as farmers had water rights, that today in Nevada are better than gold.
Emma had a well hand-dug at her house. The men dug down 65 feet before they found enough water. They put a charge of dynamite at the bottom of the well to enhance the water flow, but it wasn’t enough water to sustain her garden during summer. She notes others in Dayton came and got buckets of water from her for household chores.
The Chinese water ditch, hand-dug from the foot of the Carson River Canyon as it enters Dayton Valley to the west, runs along the hills on the north from the bottom of Dayton Hill to above River Street and on to the reservoir near Cemetery Road. It supplied water to town, but would collapse from time to time, and often took a couple of years to repair. The reservoir also needed scraping and shaping to retain water.
Then, of course, one never knew what would flow from the faucet when it opened. Emma spoke of tadpoles, small fish and crawfish. Water from the reservoir was piped to Old Town Dayton homes through a wooden pipe that ran down Main Street.
Fires were always a danger, and the fire truck was kept full of water just in case. It sometimes was not enough. From the beginning in Dayton up to the 1970s, the town didn’t have enough water. I hope in the future the same thing doesn’t happen from overdevelopment of this valley. I don’t think I’m ready to carry water.
The Dayton Museum is on Shady Lane and Logan Street in Old Town Dayton. It’s also the location of the Dayton Chamber office. It is open during the week at random hours and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1-4 p.m. Check out daytonnvhistory.org. Call 246-5543 or 246-0462.
— Ruby McFarland is a 17-year resident of Dayton, a board member of the Dayton Historical Society and a docent at the museum.