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Taking pride in Dayton’s history

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Ruby McFarland, left, and Mabel Masterman, talk about the outhouses and wine vat that were recently moved onto the Dayton Museum property.
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A determined group of Dayton residents are making sure no one forgets the importance of their community’s contribution to Nevada’s history.

The town of Dayton may have been the first settlement in Nevada. The debate continues between this Comstock town and Genoa.

Dayton was first called Chinatown, becoming home to many Chinese immigrants, then later was named Dayton after John Day, a surveyor who surveyed the Chinatown townsite free of charge after the residents agreeed to name the town for him.

“Dayton was the breadbasket for the Comstock,” said Ruby McFarland, a docent at the Dayton Museum and a member of the Dayton Museum Historical Society. “Dayton raised all the fruits and vegetables that went up to the Comstock until the Carson & Colorado Railroad started running in the early 1880s. After that, the fruits and vegetables came from the Owens Valley.”

It was also known as the gateway to the Comstock, McFarland said, adding that the town was first called “Pause and Ponder” by gold seekers headed to California.

“If no one had stopped here, they never would have looked for the gold and silver on the Comstock,” McFarland said.

McFarland, Laura Tenant, Mabel Masterman and others are hard at work keeping the tiny museum on Shady Lane in Old Town Dayton operating and educating the public about the area’s history.

The schoolhouse was built in 1865, McFarland said. It was a one-room schoolhouse until 1959, when it became a senior citizens center. It became the Dayton Museum in 1991.

“The school closed because progressive parents were upset there was no indoor plumbing and no place for children to wash their hands,” McFarland said.

Inside, visitors are taken back to life in 1800s and early 1900s Dayton.

“All aspects of life in Dayton back then are displayed in the museum,” Masterman said.

Everything in the museum was found in Dayton or donated by longtime Dayton families, including clothing, furniture and old farming, ranching and mining tools.

“A lot of the tools were handmade,” McFarland said. “There was no place they could go to buy tools.”

A desk that was used by Sheriff Dixie Perry Randall in the 1800s, when Dayton was the seat of Lyon County, an 1879 Rosewood cabinet grand piano donated by the Walmsley family was enjoyed at parties at Virginia City’s Miner’s Union Hall for many years, and an old patchwork quilt, also donated by the Walmsleys are featured in the museum.

The blankets and quilts were made of scraps,” Masterman said, “from whatever people had left over after they made their clothes.”

A display of an 1800s bedroom shows items donated by the Randall family, Masterman said. It includes an ornate, wooden headboard and footboard, and a mirror that was the top of a dresser. Clothing and quilts from the 1800s complete the display.

There is a delicate china set with rose pattern from 1862 that was also donated by the Randall family. The Randalls once owned the ranch where golfers now enjoy the Dayton Valley Golf Course.

Dixie Randall Layman donated the china and “she had Dayton’s whole history in her basement,” Masterman said.

The museum’s volunteers have created “living boxes,” sections that contain miniature furniture and other items to show what homes looked like in the 1800s and 1900s. There is even a living box of the old Braun and Loftus store, which is now known as the Old Corner Bar on Main and Pike streets.

There is an American Indian collection created by Tennant’s husband, Stony, featuring a vast array of arrowheads, and baskets as well as a rope he made out of sagebrush.

“This was all found in the Dayton area,” Tenant said. “It’s Washoe and Paiute.”

The building is surrounded by its past in the form of an old ore cart, metal melting cauldron, old wagon remnants, farm equipment and even outhouses.

There is also a wine vat, over which the Dayton Museum volunteers have built a structure to protect it from the elements.

“Every year, grapes would be brought from Sonoma or Salinas to make wine,” Tenant said, adding that one would-be imbiber sadly drowned in the vat.

Eventually, the museum and historical society will relocate to the old C&C depot at Highway 50 and Main Street, along with the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s going to be a boon for us,” McFarland said. “We’ll be able to exhibit a great deal more. Sooner or later, people will begin to realize Dayton’s place in Nevada’s history.”

If you go

WHAT: Dayton Museum

HOURS: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays

WHERE: Shady Lane and Logan Street, Old Town Dayton

CALL: 246-5543, 246-0462 or 246-0441

ONLINE: http://www.daytonnvhistory.org

The history debate

For more on the debate on whether Dayton or Genoa is Nevada’s oldest settlement go to: http://dmla.clan.lib.nv.us/docs/NSLA/archives/myth/myth22.htm

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.