Dayton History - for Dayton's Kids!

Andrew Smith was one of the first people of record to settle in Dayton, and he owned the first ferry that crossed the Yamhill River. He registered a claim on land that spread from the Yamhill River to Palmer Creek on February 3, 1846. His house still stands in Dayton on 5th St.

Andrew Smith House

Joel Palmer arrived in Oregon in 1845 and bought much of Andrew Smith’s land soon after. In 1850 he started to create the town of Dayton. He focused on buying land and eventually most of the town of Dayton was built on land he owned. Joel Palmer built a home on the edge of the town of Dayton that still stands today. Have you visited his house?

Joel Palmer House


The first public school in Dayton was built in the 1850’s and stood on Alder between 4th and 5th streets. No one knows for sure what happened to this building, but many believe that it burned down. This picture is from 1910 – do you and your friends look like students from Dayton’s past?

Dayton School 1910

Prior to the 1920’s, school buses were powered by horses! Lucille Newhouse McFarlane was a student in those days, and she recounted a story of her bus that went down Neck Rd. The horses broke loose from the bus, and the driver held onto the reins. He was dragged on his stomach down the road until the horses decided to stop! The bus, with the kids inside, rolled to a stop at the driveway to one of their homes. Believe it or not, no one was hurt.

Here is what the bus might have looked like:

WI Horse Bus

Joel Palmer also gave the land for Brookside Cemetery to the people of Dayton, and charged nothing for them to be buried there. The Dayton School District owned Brookside for many years because they were seen as the government of Dayton before it was officially a city.



The first girl baby born to the pioneers in Yamhill county was named Mary Ann Robinson. When she married, she became Mary Ann Gilkey – you might recognize her name. In 1923 she donated the land where the City Hall now stands to the people of Dayton, with the condition that there would always be a free library open to the citizens of our town. The library is still named after her today - and all of Dayton's kids are welcome there!

Mary Gilkey


The first school for “upper grades” was built in 1895. This school had grades 1-10. It wasn’t until 1906 that Dayton had an actual four-year high school. The first graduating class from Dayton High School was the class of 1908. This was the graduating class of 1915. How many kids do you think will be in your high school class?

DHS 1915

In 1853, Joel Palmer became the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and purchased land soon there after for the Umpqua and Kalapuya Indians. He moved them onto the land, and they settled what is now Grand Ronde. The Blockhouse was moved there and used as a jail. In 1911 it was moved once again, to where it stands now, in memory of General Palmer.


Dayton was known as “The Port City” early in its history. Flat-bottomed boats powered by Native American oarsmen docked along the Yamhill River. These boats helped Dayton’s farmers transport wheat up and down the river, and shuttled commuters from Oregon City to Dayton. In 1851 the first steamboat docked in Dayton. Dayton happens be on a wide spot in the river where Palmer Creek empties into the Yamhill River. It was the only spot on the river that was wide enough to allow large steamboats to turn around and head back up to Portland, so Dayton was a very busy dock -  until trains took over!

This is the steamboat Oregona and passengers docking in Dayton.



Dayton has always been a town driven by agriculture and farming. There has been a dairy in operation in Dayton since 1837. There was an eight-story grain mill along the river, but it burned down. There was an evaporating plant that burned down and was rebuilt. It is believed the second building was lost to a flood. There was a vinegar factory in Dayton too, but guess what? It burned down! Why do you think so many buildings burned down in these times?

This was the second dehydrating plant in Dayton. 

Evaporating Plant

In 1861, a flood struck Dayton and destroyed most of the waterfront and businesses along the river. Floods have been recorded in 1880, 1881, 1890, 1907, 1923, 1943, 1964, etc.

This is a view of the Powell Warehouse and Yamhill River in the flood of 1890.

Powell Warehouse Flood


Dayton is a special town with a long and proud history. No matter what disaster may strike, the people of Dayton have always rebuilt the town that they love.