Tennant: Gold dredging operation dug too deep years ago

November 1, 2014 Posted by admin

Reviewing old newspaper clippings, I spotted stories about Dayton, and the gold-mining dredging operation that eventually left an unsightly, humongous pit west of town.

And, worse yet, the project demolished the site of Nevada’s first gold discovery in 1849 and earliest settlement site of at least 1851.

Dredging for gold, silver and quicksilver began in Dayton in the late 1880s after the Comstock Lode’s high-grade ore petered out.

Speculators then knew from experience that millions of dollars worth of precious metals had been lost in the inefficient milling operations of the Big Bonanza days. Tons of tailings from old mill sites in Gold and Sixmile canyons had washed downstream into Dayton Valley, too, so milling men began reworking those tailings in Dayton mills.

By the 1890s, it had been discovered that using cyanide in milling operations was expediting the process of extracting gold or silver from tailings. Nevada’s first cyanide plant began production in Dayton during the late 1800s.

The search for gold around Dayton continued in one way or another.

Carson River dredging

Mining entrepreneurs familiar with this area knew mills operating on the Carson River in the 1860s, and into the 1880s, between Dayton and Carson City, had lost about 25 percent of their high-grade ores downstream. These gold miners made plans to find fortunes that lay buried in the Carson River’s bed.

Despite the millwright’s amazing ingenuity, and their expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to experiment, engineer, build and operate a variety of milling and washing facilities, the complications associated with river dredging operations netted meager profits.

World’s largest dredge

Around Dayton, though, the lure of gold mining attracted a large land-based dredging company to locate above the Dayton Cemetery in the 1920s. The project lasted about three years.

Then, 20 years later, the world’s largest dragline dredge, the California-based Dayton Dredging Co., went to work west of town. The Nevada State Journal reported the dragline dredge “tears up 20,000 tons of earth daily.” The dredge unearthed a bounty of gravel from below the mouth of Gold Canyon west of town as far east as Pike Street.

The company had offered to move the entire town, businesses and all, across the Carson River, but Dayton property owners rejected the plan. In the end, about a dozen homes originally established at the mouth of Gold Canyon on Dayton’s west end were moved closer to downtown and to Carson City. Times were hard in Dayton then, a town of just 300 residents, and the dredging operation employed locals. Looking back on the project, old-timers said the hole and mess left behind spoiled the character of the town forever.

Rivets salvaged at Dayton

The Dayton Dredging Co., closed down with the coming of World War II when gold mining was halted nationwide and companies focused on producing strategic materials needed on the war front.

During the war years, another news article said a state scrap drive held in Dayton “developed a bonanza in scrap” when four children laboriously collected 3 tons of rivets that were discarded when the Dayton dragline dredge had been dismantled.

Sent to the Pacific Coast steel furnaces, the rivets were described by the state salvage committee to be the “best and most unusual collection of scrap since the salvage drive started, and they will probably be converted into gun barrels.”

One of the children mentioned in the article was Vern Cadwallader, then a fifth grader. Vern still lives in Old Town Dayton with his wife, Joel.

The dragline dredge had been shipped to Pennsylvania to be used to strip coalfields.

Laura Tennant is a Nevada native, Dayton historian and the Leader-Courier’s former editor. Comments are welcome. Call 775-246-3256, e-mail L10ant38@gmail.com or write P.O. Box 143, Dayton, Nev., 89403.

Article source: http://www.rgj.com/story/news/local/mason-valley/2014/11/01/tennant-gold-dredging-operation-dug-deep-years-ago/18056451/

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