Dayton Museum at the heart of historic community

The Dayton Museum holds many treasures from the area's gold-mining days.

The Dayton Museum holds many treasures from the area's gold-mining days.

Gold brought the world to the West, first to California then to Nevada. Gold also first brought the world to Dayton, but fertile soil, water and commerce kept them coming.

The Dayton Museum Historical Society is caretaker of the story of the community whose characters include American Indians, Chinese and Italians, as well as Americans. Its goal is to teach the story to the hundreds of newcomers now flooding in from many corners of the world.

Historical society President Laura Tennant cites the ethnicity of the people of Dayton as one of the most fascinating aspects of the community's history and the museum's displays.

Dayton began as a rest stop for people heading to the gold fields of California. In 1849, gold was discovered in Dayton, initiating Nevada's gold rush, which eventually led to the silver mines of Virginia City.

The museum displays an assortment of gold pans, picks, assayers equipment and other items from Dayton's gold-mining days.

The next rush of people came for ranching and other forms of commerce to supply the new population.

"At the turn of the century, 26 of 27 ranches (in Dayton Valley) were owned by Italians," Tennant said.

One of the museum's newer acquisitions is an old wine barrel an Italian family used for stomping grapes for wine. The grapes were shipped by rail from California.

"Milling brought a lot of different people, especially Irish and English," Tennant said.

Chinese arrived to work on the railroads. Dayton's Chinatown was the first in Nevada.

Among the museum's Chinatown artifacts is a wicker basket harness used to carry water from the Carson River to Virginia City. It, along with other Chinese items, are currently on loan to the Nevada State Railroad Museum for a special exhibit. Items that remain in the museum include several scales used to weigh gold dust and often opium. Photographs show the hovels that housed the Chinese community.

The museum's oldest artifacts come from the American Indian population. Washoe and Paiute tribes lived in the area. Several stones and mortars used to grind grain are displayed along with hundreds of arrowheads found in the area.

The museum itself is an artifact from Dayton's history.

Tucked away in the historic district, the building was the original schoolhouse. Constructed in 1865, it's the second oldest schoolhouse still standing in the state and the oldest still in its original location. (Reno's Glendale school is the oldest, but has been moved).

The schoolhouse was used until 1953, and has served as the community hall, a church and senior center.

In the early 1990s, the historical society acquired the building. With grants from the state, the room previously used as the senior center kitchen was remodeled to create a new display room, Tennant said.

The front area of the building was more of a problem. When the volunteers pulled up the old green carpet, they discovered linoleum flooring, and under that was a thick layer of black tar. A roofers' tool saved them from hand chiseling the gunk. Underneath, they found what is probably the original wooden floor, worn but usable and historic in its own right.

With a place to preserve the history of Dayton, donations from many of the community's original families followed.

Lyon County's first sheriff was a Randall, a family that ranched in the area where Dayton Valley Golf Course is now. Dixie Randall Laymer sent a moving van filled with artifacts from her family. Besides the sheriff's 1862 desk, family artifacts include fine china, jewelry, clothing and other furniture.

The Walmsley family donated a piano in memory of Eugene Walmsley. The rosewood cabinet piano, manufactured in 1879, was brought to Dayton from Virginia City in 1911. The museum also houses an assortment of barn tools and equipment from the Walmsley family.

The historical society continues to collect donations of historically significant items.

"We limit donations to things used in Dayton or on the Comstock," said Tennant, who was born in Silver City and graduated from the old Dayton High School.

They are also collecting historic photographs for a future photo exhibit and seeking new members to expand their programs, including adding costumed docents to conduct tours.

Teaching others about Dayton's history is one of the primarily missions of the museum. Newcomers to Dayton Valley are often surprised at the rich history they've inherited.

"A lot of newcomers are really prideful when they learn about our history, maybe more so then the old-timers who take it for granted," Tennant said.

Those who want to know more can find a large assortment of books and gifts from the small gift area of the museum.

If you go:

What: Dayton Museum

Where: Shady Lane and Logan Alley

When: Open weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day


What: Dayton Museum Historical Society

Meets: Third Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. at the Pizza Factory in Dayton

Call: President Laura Tennant at 246-3256 or membership chairwoman Judy Harris at 246-5783.

Sally Taylor is night editor and the Dayton reporter. Contact her at or 881-1210.


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