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A Brief Early History of My Tiny Hometown: Dayton, Iowa

Immigrants from across the ocean and American citizens from crowded Eastern cities flocked hungrily West for opportunity. They built fledgling communities from the ground up. My tiny farming community of Dayton, Iowa, was one of them.


The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 from France covered 500 million acres of land West of the Mississippi River. That purchase and Lewis and Clark's exploration of western regions in 1805-06 opened the floodgates of white western expansion across the continent. Iowa would be the 29th state to join the Union in 1846. But it wasn't the first state west of the Mississippi. Louisiana would be ratified far sooner, in 1812, because of the French's early settlement; Missouri in 1821; Arkansas in 1836, and Texas in 1845. All would be ratified before Iowa. But the territory of Iowa, the only state to be bordered on both east and west by the continent's greatest rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri, was known for its rich prairie soil. It had the richest soil on the planet, three feet of the blackest topsoil on earth. Black Gold to those who sought to work the land. And farmers from Scandinavian and eastern America thirsted for such land.


Can you imagine going West into a raw frontier to find your new home? To build a new life from the ground up? Meandering down the center of Iowa was another major river, the Des Moines. Land along this river was especially rich. Dayton was built about five miles from this river on one of its tributaries, Skillet Creek. The earliest history of white people coming to the area that would become Dayton,  Iowa, dates back to 1850-51, only about four years after the territory became a state. According to the historical website IAGenWeb, the earliest white newcomers to Dayton "lived in caves in the hillside." (I would love to know where these caves are, as I have never heard of any caves in the Dayton area!)


Native Americans, of course, had been living in the area for tens of thousands of years. (SEE last week's post about the Skillet Creek Indian Mounds and the Woodland Indians.) The Woodland Indians had been the dominate culture for a thousand years but had been wiped out hundreds of years before. Other tribes had moved in, especially the Sioux and had settled along the Des Moines River.


The first white person to homestead in Dayton was Benjamin  F. Allison, age 36, and his wife, Sarah, age 33, and their three toddlers. They came from Ohio via Indiana. They built a log cabin in southwestern Dayton, the area that would become known as "Old Minneapolis" perhaps because so many Scandinavians moved there. Later, the Minneapolis St. Louis Railroad Line (the MSL) would run through that area of town and a train depot would be built. (SEE a future post about this.) Some surmise this was the reason early Dayton was called Old Minneapolis, after the railroad.


Allison named the fledgling town "Dayton." (Why he chose this particular name is not known.) Allison purchased many acres of the Dayton area to develop into a community and laid out the first neighborhoods in "Old Minneapolis." He built the first sawmill on Skillet Creek that supplied the lumber for building the homes.

 

But development of Dayton as a thriving community would take decades. The map below shows the Township of Dayton in 1875, approximately nine miles wide and six miles deep. Dayton's earliest major homesteaders are recognizable today in modern times, many generations later. Notice that the name of the community is actually listed as "West Dayton." Perhaps this was to distinguish the small community from its eastern and much larger predecessor, Dayton, Ohio?



Below is a link to the 1860 Federal Census for the Dayton Township. Dayton folks, are any of your ancestors listed?


 

You may also enjoy these related posts:

 • My Pioneer Mother


 • How Log Cabins Were Built


• Women Homesteaders


"A Brief Early History of My Tiny Hometown: Dayton, Iowa" was first published on Facebook and Notes from the Frontier on April 23, 2024.


© 2024 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER  


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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular NotesfromtheFrontier.com blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook

 

Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  

 

Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on DeborahHufford.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

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