Dayton House Stagecoach Inn, nestled quietly on a farmstead, just a few miles south of Bouton and Iowa Highway 141, has seen more boisterous times and owners.
The large brick house and stagecoach stop was built in 1867-1968, after the original wood-structured stage coach house burned to the ground. The house, built by Seth H. Dayton, had room for a dance hall upstairs, rooms for travelers to stay overnight, and a tavern, complete with a large, open fireplace in the basement, accessed by very steep stairs.
Travelers stopping over for the night, weary from the road, or ready for some excitement either drug themselves to bed, or partook in some dancing and, or drinking at the stop. Today, one’s imagination could picture any number of scenarios at the house.
Dust rustled around the corner as Mike Wallace, Dallas County Conservation Board (DCCB) director, opened the door to the main floor. The stagecoach house was donated to the Conservation Board a few years ago by the previous owner Paul Mullen, and the Conservation Board is working to restore and repurpose the building.
"The Dayton House Stagecoach Inn is one of just a few existing stagecoach inns that have retained almost all of its integrity," Wallace said. "At first we thought we might make it an off-site museum, an extension of the Forest Park and Museum in Perry. But then as we began talking about it, and how peaceful it feels in its location, and its original use, and we thought it would be good as a gathering place, a place a group of people or family could rent," he said.
DCCB was awarded a grant, and was given some idividual monetary donations to help replace the roof and tuck point the brick so the structure was stabilized, which has been done. Wallace and his employees are now awaiting the results of one grant application and getting ready to make another one to finish the renovation.
"The first grant came from a transportation grant through the IDOT," Wallace said. "We could apply for that type of grant because the original use for the structure was for transportation."
The brick house only saw use as a stagecoach stop for three to four years after it was built. The wood house that stood for 10 years before burning down had always been used as a stagecoach stop. However, construction of railroad routes began to replace stagecoach lines just a few years after Dayton rebuilt with brick.
He had the brick made by hand from mud gathered in the nearby creek. It was so soft, that a person could write their name in the brick, and that is exactly what he did. If a person stands outside the house, a little to the left in the back of the house, a brick with his signature can be seen toward the top of the wall.
Over the years, youngsters, and perhaps others who visited or frequented the house, carved their names into the brick at the side of the house and are still legible today. "We consider the signatures as part of the history," Wallace said, "so we won’t be grinding out the carving."
Wallace said the building will be furnished in part with period furniture from the various decades the house has stood beginning in the 1968. "We have some benefactors who have given us furniture from their estate sales that are in storage and will be used out here."
Walls put up years after the house was constructed will be knocked out to recreate the look of the dance hall that people at one time frequented. Wallace ran his hand across the door frame into one room. The wall was at least 18 inches thick.
"That’s the way they built houses back then, I think in part for the insulation factor. They would build the exterior walls with space between the brick and the inside walls," he explained.
Pete Malmburg, curator of the Dallas County’s Forest Park and Museum, has done research on the house, and said that he believes the tavern and the dance hall were used for quite some time after the house stopped being a stagecoach stop.
"Seth Dayton was a different man who liked to gamble and race horses," Malmburg said. "From what we have been able to dig up, he wagered the house and land on a horse race. Someone apparently doped his horse so he would lose. He did end up losing everything."
Dayton lived at least 10 more years, but died as a member the Teamsters and without much to his name.
Wallace would like to see renovation of the Dayton House Stagecoach Inn completed in the next year or so, and open to the public as soon as possible.