By Sharon Wootton For the Herald
Stop the car, I want to get out! That’s my mantra on a drive through the countryside because behind every small town’s welcome sign is a surprise, waiting to be discovered. And I love surprises.
Dayton, northeast of Walla Walla on Highway 12, features the Green Giant, steel sculptures of explorers, the state’s oldest train depot (1881) and the oldest continuously used courthouse (1887).
It was home to the world’s largest asparagus cannery for about seven decades, some of the asparagus marketed under the Green Giant label. Although the cannery moved to Peru several years ago, the Green Giant remains on the high hillside.
Driving into Dayton from the west, look left. For 20-odd years, a farmer heavily fertilized a 300-foot by 40-foot Green Giant, which would then grow green. In 1991, residents created a more durable arrangement by outlining it with colored patio bricks.
Driving into Dayton from the north, take Patit Creek Road for about 2 1/2 miles to the Patit Creek Campsite.
Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery arrival on May 2, 1806 is represented by dozens of life-size metal silhouettes camping with gear and horses. The sculptures include American Indians trading with the party. A plaque gives a number, name and job to every figure.
When you reach Main Street, picture it as a dirt track for tribal horse races. In 1859, cattle ranchers started homesteading, then gave way to grain farmers and loggers. An 18-mile-long flume brought logs from the Blue Mountains to the town mill.
Dayton was wide open to bad behavior from 1876 to ‘78 with 15 saloons, gambling and its share of outlaws before law and order came to town.
Today the major attraction is the Dayton Depot, abandoned in 1971 and now a museum.
Before the railroad came through the town, grain was shipped overland to Walla Walla by horse and wagon, then by rail and boat to Portland, Ore. In 1899, the depot was moved about a third of mile to its current location just off Main Street. The move took more than a month using roller logs, two horses and a capstan.
Here are a few Dayton stops:
Dingle’s: Entering is a step back in time, buffered by an assortment that stretches from everyday needs to a few items that defy recognition, and from nuts and bolts to teddy bears. The store’s motto: “If you don’t find it at Dingle’s, you don’t need it!”
Weinhard Hotel (1889): Built to house a saloon by the nephew of brewer Henry Weinhard, Jacob Weinhard, the inn has 19th-century antiques, original heavy doors and moldings, 15 guest rooms with 14-foot-high ceilings and a terraced garden on the roof.
Weinhard’s Cafe: In a separate building, the cafe includes original brick walls, high ceilings, wood floors and Italian fare Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Palus Artifact Museum: The Palus, the original name for the Palouse tribe and pronounced the same, was the prominent tribe in the area. The museum (1991) started with one family’s large collection of artifacts. Visitors can see arrow and spear points, a native plants exhibit, a mural of Palouse Falls, basketry, beadwork and other artifacts.
Columnist Sharon Wootton is co-author of “Off the Beaten Path: Washington” and can be reached at 360-468-93964 or www.songandword.com.