Dayton celebrates the past; square dances into the future |

Dayton celebrates the past; square dances into the future

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Hannah Lewis, 4, front, and her sister Hailey, 3, of Dayton, entertain parade-goers with the Dayton Dukettes during the Dayton Valley Days parade on Saturday morning.

“Dayton was and is Nevada’s oldest settlement,” explained a Lyon County lawman in the Main Street Community Center. “Depending on who you’re arguing with, of course.”

The 16th annual Dayton Valley Days got under way Saturday with a parade honoring veterans. Events like foot races, a car show featuring an Andy Griffith-era cruiser with a big, red, bell-like roof light and a silent auction of artwork and sports memorabilia followed.

A stiff wind blew down Main Street which was lined for the day with booths like the county fair. The sun was bright but cool. Dust rose and the smell of fresh horse manure made you feel like you forgot your spurs. Unless, like some folks in attendance, you didn’t.

The chill aside, cold beer was still selling for $2 a throw from a booth made to look like a chuck wagon and icy margaritas were moving at $4 a pop.

In the old jail on Main Street, 14-year-old, Jen Minor was giving tours of the archaic cell block.

“It actually came to Dayton by mail-order,” she says, showing the cramped metal rat cage used to house the prisoners. “It was delivered and assembled piece by piece and used all the way until 1960.”


On the wall was evidence of where an inmate had tried to escape using a nail.

“He almost made it,” she said reassuringly.

Also on the wall, a telling sign of Dayton’s past: a log of criminals and their crimes. One man, poor R.C. Darst, was in the slammer for being “1Ú4 Neagro [sic], Pimp and Liar.”

Jim Marwin is none of these.

He is a square dance caller. As he picks up the microphone and lays a 45 on the record player, people come alive. With an eerie, husky-smooth radio voice from some distance past, he may seem like an anachronism, but today, that’s what’s being celebrated.

Square dancing, one bit of “square” Americana that has yet to be commandeered and gobbled up by kitsch-hungry hipsters, has been around for a long time, but nobody really knows how long.

Marwin estimates it came to be in the 1950s.

Clad in western shirt, Marwin puts on the tiny record and then proceeds to do something that’s somewhere between jazz scatting and auctioning off a farm animal, all to the beat of “hoe-down” music.

It’s authentically beautiful.

“Dos-a-dos your corner, once around you go.'”

Eight dancers, or one “square,” cut up the Main Street macadam, pass each other, shoulder to shoulder, and then circle each other, back to back.

“Wheel and deal…” calls out the M.C.

Dancer Deborah McGifford in a beautiful homemade dress says she can square dance to anything, including R&B, rock, jazz … anything. “Even that song ‘Elvira,'” she says.


Carrie Horn, whose been dancing for more than 40 years, dances every week at Dayton High.

“It keeps you in great shape, mentally and physically,” she says. “You’d never know it, but I’m 90!”

Careful, Carrie, they’ll toss you in the pen thinkin’ you’re a liar!

Contact Peter Thompson at or 881-1215.


Today’s schedule

8 a.m.: Pinewood derby track set-up

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Child Find

9 a.m.: Pinewood derby races begin

10 a.m.: Pet parade

10 a.m. ’til closing: Wagon train rides

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Carson-Tahoe Wellness Center

11 a.m.: Children’s games begin

11 a.m.- 2 p.m.: Band, Kelly’s Lot, at the Wildhorse Saloon

11 a.m.-3 p.m.: Blood donations taken by United Blood Services

1 p.m.: Pinewood derby races begin

3 p.m.: Roadkill raffle drawing