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Dennis Cassinelli: Memories of old Dayton

By Dennis Cassinelli

Between 1889 and 1910, the Cassinelli family settled on a ranch across the Carson River from downtown Dayton. The ranch they acquired is now the location of the Ricci Ranch. Pietro and Theresa Cassinelli raised a family of 12 children while they lived in Dayton. Pietro and his brother, Bert and cousin Vitoria built a dam across the Carson River and constructed ditches to irrigate the fields.

The crops they raised were taken to Virginia City, Gold Hill and Silver City to provide hay, potatoes, garlic, corn and other vegetables for the people on the Comstock. Pietro Cassinelli was my great-grandfather. His son, Pete owned the ranch where I grew up near Sparks where Baldini’s Casino is now located. My father, Raymond, operated the Cassinelli Hog Ranch during and after World War II. In Addition to ranching, Raymond and a group of his friends formed the Raymond Cassinelli Dance Band.

Before the war, Raymond studied music in San Francisco and started a dance band with his accordion, a xylophone player, piano and saxophone. The group traveled around eastern California and western Nevada for dances and New Year’s eve celebrations during the late 1930s and early 1940s. I can remember them playing in Vinton, Stockton, various grange halls, Virginia City and the Odeon Hall in Dayton. Raymond told me that at one dance he played in Stockton, the only people in the place who wore any clothes were the members of his band.



After Raymond passed away a few years ago, my brother, sister and I decided to donate his accordion to one of his favorite dance halls. We had heard the upstairs ball room at Dayton’s Odeon Hall may be converted to a museum someday. When this was the location of Mia’s Swiss restaurant, Mary and I took Raymond there to visit the old upstairs ballroom. This brought back many memories for him of the days when he and his band had played there. He told me that security was provided by a deputy sheriff named Lester Barton. He kept order at the dances with a rifle equipped with a banana clip.

The idea of putting a museum in the Odeon Hall never did materialize. I then decided to donate the symphonic console accordion made by Guerrini Co., of San Francisco and some photographs to the Dayton Historical Museum located in the second oldest schoolhouse in Nevada, built in 1865. It is located at Shady Lane and Logan Alley in Dayton. One of the photographs I donated was the Dayton school class of 1906 taken in front of the school. In the photo were eight members of the Cassinelli clan who were students there in 1906. One of them was my grandfather, Pete Cassinelli, Raymond’s father. Also in the photo was Lester Barton without his rifle.



Dayton also happens to have one of just a few intact Nevada Pony Express stations located on Main Street between the Fox Hotel and the Union hotel. These buildings are now private homes but the ruins of the station walls can be seen from the street behind the residences. One of the stone walls extends between the buildings and can be seen from Main Street. This is just across the street from J’s Old Town Bistro. The ruins include a massive high arch wall with an opening high enough for the ponies to access.

Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.