D. Zapata, B. Borden 2021, Lyon County Cultural Overview, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno

Introduction

Lyon County is located southeast of Reno with a portion of its lands running across the western border of the state. Lyon is home to mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, and a population of 55,808 (NACo, 2020). The county’s largest cities, Yerington and Silver Springs, can be found along the US-95, one of the few routes running from Mexico to Canada. North of Yerington are the Yerington Reservation and Trust Lands, which had 354 tribal members in 1990, 659 members in 1992, and 1,200 as of 2020. Just south of Yerington is Lyon’s highest peak, Bald Mountain, sitting at 9,549 ft and to the north Lahontan State Recreation Area bordering neighboring Churchill County.

History

Lyon County was one of Nevada’s nine original counties created in 1861. It was named after General Nathaniel Lyon who died in the Civil War. Its first county seat was Dayton; in 1911, it was moved to Yerington where it has sat since (“Lyon County Courthouse,” n.d.).

Nevada’s first gold discovery was in Lyon in 1849. This discovery in the Silver City district trickled into the Comstock Lode district ten years later, and both Lyon districts went on to produce sizable amounts of gold ore (Koschmann, 1968). Into the next century, total gold production for Lyon from 1903 to 1959 was 254,722 ounces. Today, Lyon has 343 mines, and three major ones, mining over 390,000 tons of gypsum and 116,000 tons of limestone in 2018 (Major Mines, 2019).

In 1967, Nevada Legislature started a program to mark 266 roadside points of historical interest in the state, including 17 in Lyon County (Nevada’s History Markers, 2017). Some of these markers highlight Lyon’s well-known mining history, while other markers point to the lesser-known but interesting facts, such as the use of leftover military-imported camels to haul mining material. Desert Well Station, which had a well used exclusively by camels, wrote about by Mark Twain in his book “Roughing it.” Nearby in Dayton, the Dayton schoolhouse that was built in 1865 still stands today as the second-oldest building in Nevada (the first being the Las Vegas Old Mormon Fort).

For further Lyon County history, please refer to or Online Nevada’s Lyon County Articles or Dayton NV History. The following books, available through university libraries, compile oral histories, mini-biographies, and scholarly approaches to Lyon County’s history:

  • “Dayton” by Laura Fay Tennant and Jack Folmar, Arcadia Publishing 2015.
  • “Fort Churchill: Nevada Military Outpost of the 1860s” by Stanley W. Paher and Kathryn Totton, Nevada Natural History Association and the Nevada Division of State Parks, 1981.
  • “Memoirs of Careers with Nevada Bench and Bar, Lyon County Offices, and the Nevada State Museum” by Clark J. Guild, University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Project, 1971.

Landscape and Climate

Like much of Nevada and lands in the southwest, Lyon County is quite dry and the sun can be seen shining year around. Averaging 251 sunny days and only 8 inches of rain, Lyon is the perfect place to be outside and exploring much of the year. July temps reach the low to mid 90s while January sees temperatures dip into freezing territory, which causes an average of 16 inches of snow.

Much of Lyon County sits well above sea level. The county seat in Yerington reaches 4,390 feet, while at the peak of Bald Mountain in the Pine Grove Hills elevations reach over 9,500 ft. With the multiple mountain ranges and bodies of water, many outdoor recreation opportunities present themselves for residents and tourists alike.

Lahontan Reservoir in northern Lyon County has 69 miles of shoreline and is a wonderful place to fish, boat, camp, and horseback ride. For those looking to take in the sites or explore historical landmarks, there is Fort Churchill and Dayton State Park. Fort Churchill Historic State Park used to be a stop on the Pony Express and includes trails, campgrounds, and access to the Carson River. As Nevada State Parks puts it, “the park is an idyllic place for campers, hikers, bird watchers, canoeists and equestrians.” For desert topography, there is Dayton State Park located off the US-50, full of desert sage, willows, and rabbitbrush (“Outdoor Recreation,” n.d.). “The park features the remains of the Rock Point Mill built in 1861,” as well as sights of wildlife such as hawks, foxes, and porcupines.

Community and Events

Whether you are a resident looking for a local event or tourist looking for activities to fill the day, Lyon County and its communities offer plenty of excitement. At the Dayton Valley Days, which generally run in September, one can experience a chili cook-off and the Kid Zone which is full of games, face painting, and a photo booth. Also located near Dayton, train rides are available on the V&T Railway with scenic views of the Comstock.

For three days in July, Yerington hosts the Night in the County event, which is a large country concert that brings in folks from all over Nevada and surrounding areas. Also in Yerington, events are held at the Yerington Theater for the Arts, which operates the Jeanne Dini Center. This center holds events throughout the year in the performing arts, visual art exhibitions, art education programs, and cultural heritage.

One of the biggest events each year is the Lyon County Fair and Rodeo held in August. This a great family event that includes a rodeo, carnival, tractor pulls, a parade, and multiple other events held over four days (“Activities and Events,” n.d.).

Conclusion

As one of Nevada’s original nine counties, Lyon County has a rich and vibrant history that spans over a century. It holds several family-friendly community events yearly, which allow for both locals and tourists to enjoy a taste of what the county has to offer. With its scenic views and yearly events, Lyon County offers residents and tourists a wide variety of activities that span the arts, the great outdoors, and its cultural heritage, which lets visitors from near and far take part in its both interesting and exciting history.

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