Dayton was originally a trading post where west-bound wagon trains rested, foraged and watered in preparation for the struggle over the mountains to California. A 49er named Abner Blackburn pried a little nugget of gold out of the riverbed here — the first gold discovered in Nevada — before hurrying on to California.
Dayton had a Pony Express station and prospered as a milling center during the early years of development of the Comstock Lode. It achieved its present configuration by the middle 1860s, after which Comstock milling was done at more convenient places upriver.
Across Pike street is the popular J's Bistro. A block west, the Gold Canyon Restaurant serves lunches and dinners at the back of the Wild Horse Saloon. The Roadrunner Cafe by the highway serves diner fare of considerable variety. Compadres on Pike Street is a friendly Mexican place with outdoor dining in good weather. Two small casinos on the highway on the east side offer coffee shop cuisine.
Cemetery Road takes you to the earliest-established burying ground in Nevada. It contains among its tenants the mortal remains of Governor Charles Russell and Judge Clark Guild, founder of the state museum. James Finney, who christened Virginia City after his home state, was brought to rest here after being thrown from a horse. The carefully tended grounds provide a pleasant diversion for those who enjoy the tranquil intrigue of pioneer cemeteries.
Dayton State Park is on the east side along the Carson River, a serene setting that combines what's left of the Rock Point Mill, built in 1861, with the cottonwoods, sagebrush and willows along the river. The park has picnic tables, 10 campsites and two short hikes — strolls, really — one to the mill ruins, the other to the river bank. It's an oasis of calm in our busy world.