Dayton is reincorporated on November 10, 1881.

  • By John and Lorie Stucke
  • Posted 9/22/2010
  • Essay 9585

On November 10, 1881, the city of Dayton, county seat of Columbia County, is reincorporated. The Washington Territorial Legislature initially incorporated it  under the Act of 1877. However, this incorporation was nullified when a lawsuit over taxation was filed by town namesake Jesse N. Day.

Jesse Day's Town

Pioneer settler and storekeeper Jesse N. Day and his wife, Elizabeth, donated and platted land for the town of Dayton on November 23, 1871.

Until 1875, Dayton was part of Walla Walla County, which stretched across Southeastern Washington to the Idaho border. When Columbia County was established in 1875, Dayton became county seat.

It wasn’t until 1876 that residents of Dayton attempted to establish a town government. Citizens submitted a petition for incorporation, bearing the names of 62 people, to the board of Columbia County commissioners on May 5, 1876.


Commissioners approved the town’s incorporation and set a special election for May 22, 1876, to select five trustees. Records of the original trustees elected were lost, but the five trustees who succeeded them the following year were J. F. Martin, Perry Steen, George Eckler, William Matzger, and W.S. Strong.

Dayton was later incorporated as a city by the legislature of Washington Territory under the Act of 1877 and the election of city officers took place in July 1878 with Dennis C. Guernsey chosen as mayor.

However, questions as to whether the city of Dayton was legally formed were raised by town founder and namesake Jesse N. Day when he refused to pay some $200 in taxes assessed by the city. Day brought suit against Columbia County Treasurer H. H. Wolfe after Wolfe seized some of his property as payment for the delinquent taxes.

Day was awarded the decision. In another lawsuit in 1880, it was again found that Dayton was illegally incorporated. In March of that year, Judge S. C. Wingard issued an opinion that Dayton was still a town and the old town government was restored and retained until residents petitioned for a new city charter.

The City of Dayton was finally incorporated on November 10, 1881. The new city government took effect on January 1, 1882. The city’s first officers included Mayor Oliver C. White and councilmen James L. Smith, George E. Church, Lewis B. Harris, J. E. Edmiston, John Brining, and Warren A. Belcher.


F. A. Shaver, An Illustrated History of Southeastern Washington (Spokane: Washington Western Historical Publishing Company, 1906); 349-356; W. D. Lyman, Lyman’s History of Old Walla Walla County, Vol. 1 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. 1918); “Incorporations of Washington Cities and Towns by Year,” Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington accessed September 18, 2010 (; online encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Columbia County -- Thumbnail History” (by Phil Dougherty); “Dayton -- 80 Next November: Keeps Getting Better but Not Bigger,” Spokesman-Review, September 30, 1951, pp. 8-9.

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