Dayton is one of the earliest settlements in Nevada. As emigrants reached the western edge of the Twenty-Six Mile Desert, they would stop at this bend in the Carson River and decide whether to continue west or settle at the river. The location became known as 'Ponderers Rest.' In 1849, a gold nugget was discovered by Abner Blackburn in nearby Gold Creek. Prospectors rushed to Gold Canyon and placer mining took place near its mouth. Chinese were brought to the area in 1856 to build the Reese Ditch connecting to the Carson River. In 1859, the Comstock Lode was located to the north and many people moved on to those new discoveries. By 1860, mostly Chinese remained and the settlement became known as Chinatown.

Before long, it was realized that the location would be a profitable one for milling and providing supplies to the Comstock. A Pony Express stop was established, and in 1861 a town was laid out by John Day, taking the name Dayton in his honor. November 29, 1861 it became the first seat of Lyon County. Dayton grew as a major milling center, absorbing the nearby rival camp of Mineral Rapids. A new courthouse was built in 1864, and by 1865 Dayton had a population of 2500.

A large fire in 1866 destroyed much of Dayton's business district. In 1869, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad was completed, bypassing Dayton and connecting the mines on the Comstock to the Transcontinental Railroad in Reno. Much of the milling activity shifted upstream to the Carson River Canyon, and Dayton began to decline. Construction of the Sutro Tunnel between 1872 and 1878 brought some activity to Dayton, but even with the arrival of the Carson & Colorado Railroad in 1881 Dayton never grew to more than 500 or so people. In 1909, the courthouse was destroyed by fire and in 1911 the county seat moved to Yerington.

In 1920, placer mining returned to Dayton when the Gold Canyon Dredging Company recovered over $300,000 using a floating dredge. Some mining has taken place since then, but not much of note. Today Dayton has grown to around 9000 people, mostly in newer housing developments on the Carson Plains. A quiet bedroom community to Carson City, Dayton retains a small historic district with a number of original buildings. One of the oldest mills, the Rock Point, remains at the north end of town within Dayton State Park borders.

The Comstock Lode
Virginia CityMines & MillsSix Mile Canyon
Gold HillYellow Jacket MineAmerican Flat
Silver CityDaytonRock Point MillDaney Mine
Carson River Canyon MillsEureka Mill

Pony Express, 1860-61
Carson CityDayton • Miller's/Reed's →

Carson & Colorado Railroad
Mound HouseDayton • Canty →