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A pleasant, bustling city spread over the V-shaped valley formed by the conjunction of Patit Creek, which courses through the northern section of town, and the Touchet River, which cuts through the southern section.

Early history of Dayton centered around the point where Pioneer Bridge now crosses the Touchet River. Here a Native American trail crossed the stream, and the grassy flats were a favorite camping ground for Native American bands. Here, too, Lewis and Clark rested on their return journey in May, 1806, and 30 years later Captain Benjamin de Bonneville also camped here. In 1855 H. M. Chase, the first settler, took up lands at the bend of the Touchet, and other settlers soon followed. Among these was Henry C. Rickey, who erected a hotel and, in 1862, started a stage line between Walla Walla and Lewiston by way of the Touchet Valley. Newcomers continued to arrive in increasing numbers, particularly after the Civil War, but little thought was given to the establishment of a town until 1871, when the town site was platted and filed. Five years later the town was incorporated under the name of Dayton.

The town flourished. Situated at the intersection of stage routes, it profited from the transient trade of hundreds of men stampeding to the various mining districts. Additional impetus came from the discovery that the upper benchlands, as well as the valleys, were eminently suited to growing wheat. In 1875, it became the seat of Columbia County.

By 1880 Dayton had a population of 6,300. Then the wave began to recede: a series of fires, the coming of rail lines and the end of stage routes, the deflation of mining booms all contributed to the recession. Only agriculture continued to increase in importance.

The Dayton of 1940 was the hub of a highly productive farming area; the major crops were wheat, barley, hay, apples, and peas. Cattle, infamous Wheatland Shorthorns, were raised for beef, and an average of 20,000 sheep were raised annually in the county. The industrial plants included a pea cannery, apple-packing plants, sawmills, a box factory, a creamery, and several grain warehouses.

Dayton Days, an annual three-day event, continues to be held and features horse racing, bucking contests, stunt riding, and steer bulldogging.


1916 winter scene in downtown Dayton.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Image of the Dayton rail depot, taken between 1960-1970. Photo by Werner Lenggenhager.

Source: Washington State Digital Archives

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Dayton Depot

The Queen Anne-style depot is the oldest extant train depot,built in1881 by the Union Pacific Railroad, in Washington state, and now houses a museum. Both the Depot building and the historic Boldman House are operated by the Dayton Depot Historical Society, and used for the interpretation and education of local history. The society produces self-guided walking tour maps of the town’s historic properties.

Blue Mountain Cannery

Built in 1934, this was one of several large pea canneries in the Walla Walla district, expanding to asparagus canning in 1939. The cannery was the site of a 1943 strike, unique for its unity between Mexican braceros and Japanese-American workers employed at the factory, who went on strike when the Sheriff’s office enacted a restriction order on where Japanese and Mexican men could be in the city. It became one of the largest canneries in the United States. It later operated under the Green Giant label. Seneca Foods, the current owner, plans to close canning operations but will retain the facility for research purposes.

Washington Street Historic District

Three blocks of Victorian residences from the 1880s and one Art Deco-style hospital make up this historic district.

Downtown Dayton Historic District

This district comprises four blocks of commercial and publicl buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Virtually no new buildings were erected between 1920 and 1940, but post World War II, the automobile brought gas stations and auto dealerships in the Art Moderne style of the day to the area.

South Side Historic District

A district of 62 residences and three churches built between 1870 and 1920 is the largest group of architecturally significant homes in Dayton. Prominent businessmen and professionals lived side-by-side with laborers in this economically mixed, stylistically diverse neighborhood.