Dayton celebrates heritage and outhouses

What began as a Roman Catholic tradition brought from Lucca, Italy, by immigrants, Dayton's Santa Maria Day has grown into a regionwide celebration of family and Dayton's history.

The event opens Saturday at 10 a.m. with a flag ceremony by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a parade down Main Street. This year's parade theme is "Gateway to the Comstock," celebrating Nevada's first gold discovery in Dayton and the town's history as a supplier for the Virginia City mines.

Music and theater performances, crafts, antiques, food, games and contests take place throughout the day and evening in the historic district.

Highlighting the day's event is the Ultimate Bed & Outhouse Race. In its third year, the riotous race features the mainstay of pre-plumbing days careening down the street in high gear, passengers and all. The bed races provide similar campy entertainment.

The 21st annual Santa Maria Day is sponsored by Do-Mor for Dayton - the "Dayton Organization of Merchants and Owners for the Redevelopment" of historic Downtown Dayton - to raise funds to preserve the historic buildings.

"Downtown Dayton is the jewel of Dayton, and Do-Mor for Dayton's dedication is to see that our historic past is preserved and never forgotten," said event organizer Lenora Lee Vecchiarelli Sommers, a 30-year resident. "Thus, we celebrate this Victorian-era celebration so that all can see the potential in the historic value that we have to save for our future generations."

Historically, Santa Maria Day on Aug. 15 is a Roman Catholic holiday that celebrates the ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven.

In Dayton, Santa Maria Day echoes the Italian heritage of the community.

Immigrants from Lucca, Italy, originally settled came to the valley in the 1860s to work as stonecutters and masons constructing sandstone government buildings in the region. Seeing land along the Carson River that reminded them of the Italian countryside, they settled in Dayton Valley and began farming, continuing the traditions of their homeland.

The modern Dayton Santa Maria Day began in 1973 as a fund-raiser for the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department, which included many descendants of the original Italian settlers.

Four years ago, the fire department passed the torch to Do-Mor for Dayton. The new organization pumped vigor into the celebration and transformed it into a family event focused on the historic district.

"It's been growing every year," Sommers said. "We took it over and put it back in downtown Dayton, where it originally was. It's on Main Street only, which has beautiful history.

"We wanted to show what we could save for our future heritage," she said of the district's many historic buildings.

The goal for funds raised during Santa Maria Day is to purchase the Odeon Hall, which now houses Mia's Swiss Restaurant, and transform it into a cultural center for the town.

"(Odeon Hall) has never been changed since the building was rebuilt in 1874," Sommers said. "What a wonderful cultural center it is going to make."

People can get a taste of the cultural uses for the Odeon Hall during performances by the Dayton Misfits Theater Group. The group will give encore performances of their 1960s-era melodrama "The Love Child, or Mysteries of Cosmic Awareness" at 7 p.m. tonight and Saturday. Tickets, which cost $8, can be purchased at Connie's Gift Shop, Old Fogy's or Mia's Swiss Restaurant.

The Dayton Misfits will also perform the short skit "Hang the Judge" at 3 p.m. at the outdoor bandstand between band performances.

Santa Maria Day activities also include a children's area with a play castle, game booths and mustangs to pet in front of the Bluestone Building. Historic district businesses will sell food and beverage specials during the event. Old Fogy's Club will host a horseshoe tournament for all ages at 3 p.m. Saturday in the garden.

"We're trying very hard to make it a very successful day for revitalization of the historic downtown Dayton," Sommers said. "It's wonderful to revive and relive the past, because then we have our heritage. ... Coming to Dayton is a walk into the past."


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