Dayton’s Rock Point Mill

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Once the amazing discovery of silver bearing ore had been made on the Comstock Lode, the miners were faced with the problem of how to get the many tons of rich ore processed to recover the valuable silver and gold. Several arrastras were built to crush the material in a circular pit using a heavy revolving stone wheel. This primitive method proved too inefficient for the large volume of material being taken from the Virginia City and Gold Hill mines. Several small scale stamp mills sprang up but there was not enough water in the intermittent springs to operate them on a continuous basis.

The earliest prospectors and miners on the Comstock knew that there were mills in California, so they sent horse or mule drawn wagon loads of ore across the Sierras to be processed. This was at great expense but the ores were so rich, the investment paid off. As the volume of material being removed from the mines increased, it became evident that large scale local mills must be built to handle the demand. The problem was, there was not yet a water system in the Virginia City area that could supply the volume of water required to operate a mill of the size needed.

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A large number of small stamp mills sprang up along Gold Canyon, Six mile Canyon and around Virginia City and Dayton. These were relatively low production operations and usually processed not much more than one ton of ore per day.

The nearest place where there was sufficient water to operate a large quartz mill was along the Carson Rock Point Mill_3River. The placer miners who had been working along Gold Canyon for several years had constructed a ditch near Dayton to bring water from the carson River to the lower end of Gold Canyon. This same source of water was destined to be the source of water for a thriving new milling operation.

In 1861, the first large scale quartz mill in the region was constructed at Rock Point in the town of Dayton. Water from the Douglas Ditch was diverted to serve the Rock Point Mill and the ore from the Comstock mines could then be hauled down Gold Canyon for processing rather than the expensive journey over the mountains to California. The mill was also used to process much of the ore from the mines at Como and other nearby areas.

The original Rock Point Mill was owned by Hugh and J.R. Logan, James Holmes and John Black. The main building was ninety by one hundred feet with forty-two stamps and could reduce fifty tons of rock per day. It was powered by a waterwheel of one hundred horsepower. During its many years of operation, the mill was remodeled, refurbished and rebuilt several times. For those of you who have never witnessed the operation of a stamp mill, the one thing that everyone who has seen one in operation comments on is the noise the machinery makes as it crushes the ore to a fine powder under the clattering steel stamps.

The mill ran until 1882 when it burned down and was quickly rebuilt. The mill then began receiving ore from the Comstock on the new Carson and Colorado Railroad. It burned again in 1909 and was rebuilt in 1910 as the Nevada Reduction and Power Co. At that time, a new aerial tramway was constructed that carried ore to the mill site from Silver City and Gold Hill.

The 1910 reincarnation of the Rock Point mill was updated with steel and concrete construction. Due to decreased demand for milling in the early 1920s, the mill was dismantled and the machinery was taken to Silver City. Today, the site of the Rock Point Mill is a part of the Dayton State Park. There are extensive ruins that visitors are encouraged to visit and explore on a self-guided tour over well marked trails. It is located on the west side of U.S. Highway 50 across from the park. There is a concrete lined tunnel under Highway 50 for access between the park and the mill site.

The ruins that remain today are massive concrete foundations where the stamping machinery was mounted, stone walls and masonry built by Italian stonemasons, a massive concrete water tower and remnants of roadbeds and water storage areas. The ruins are located in and around a large grove of old cottonwood trees and although the area was used for years as the Dayton town dump, there is no trace of this unless you know where to look. There are two interesting rooms or rock tunnels carved into a hillside that were probably used for storage of explosives or flasks of mercury. These are safe to enter since they are carved in solid rock with no danger of cave-in.

After construction of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad through the Carson River Canyon between Moundhouse and Empire City in 1869, there were many more large mills constructed in that area. With the reincarnation of the V & T to Carson City, visitors can view the sites of these mills from the train as it passes through this extremely scenic canyon.

Related: The Remains of the Rock Point Mill 

The Remains of the Rock Point Mill

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You wouldn’t know it driving past, but this scenic, cottonwood-shaded area alongside Highway 50 through Dayton was once home to a spellbinding ore-processing operation. And though nature’s started to reclaim it, the Rock Point Mill still stands as one of the many reminders of the Comstock mining district and the tremendous wealth it generated.

The Rock Point Mill site in Dayton, Nevada

The mill was built in 1861 by Charles C. Stevenson, who also served as Nevada’s governor from 1887 to 1890. Forty stamps crushed the ore that came from Gold Hill, Silver City and, of course, Virginia City. Flumes carried water from the nearby Carson River to the mill site. At one time, the mill had the capacity to crush 40 tons of ore per day.

A fire ravaged the original mill in 1882, and another fire wreaked havoc in 1909. Though it was immediately rebuilt, the new mill closed in 1920 and was moved to Silver City. Between 1920 and 1954, the site was used a dump.

Now part of the Dayton State Park, the remains of the historic Rock Point Mill include rock walls strung along the hillsides and concrete slabs sprouting from the earth. A wood-framed doorway leads into a room enclosed in rock. Outside, a stone staircase winds up a hill that provides amazing views of the surrounding town. An earthen dam still exists and provides a scenic basin hidden from the highway.

A sign near the base of the ruins tells the mill’s story through words and photographs. Rock-lined pathways wind uphill toward the dam, around the dump and to a round concrete structure at the top of a high hill. A convenient bench allows visitors to sit and admire the view. In addition, the site is connected to the Dayton State Park through a tunnel that runs underneath Highway 50.

Venturing among the ruins, you get a sense of the operation’s vast scale. As one of three ore-processing plants in Dayton, The Rock Point Mill was a crucial fixture not only of the town, but of the Comstock mining district as well. Today, it serves as an historical remnant of a bygone era, reminding contemporary Dayton of its roots and the role it played in the shaping of the west.