Marcus Larson/News-Register##The Dayton Community Development Association’s board of directors gathered recently at The Block House Cafe. Around the table from left to right: Trini Marquez, John Collins, Jason Aust, Brett Putman, Yvonne
Valdenegro-Craig, Steve Hopper and Beth Wytoski.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##The Dayton Community Development Association’s board of directors gathered recently at The Block House Cafe. Around the table from left to right: Trini Marquez, John Collins, Jason Aust, Brett Putman, Yvonne Valdenegro-Craig, Steve Hopper and Beth Wytoski.
News-Register file photo##After marching in the Dayton Old Timers parade, Duane Overgard rests his
long legs at the Dayton park fountain with his wife, Leslie.
News-Register file photo##After marching in the Dayton Old Timers parade, Duane Overgard rests his long legs at the Dayton park fountain with his wife, Leslie.
News-Register file photo##Anny Bejarano
sells fruit sticks to Leslie Duran last year during Dayton Friday Nights.
News-Register file photo##Anny Bejarano sells fruit sticks to Leslie Duran last year during Dayton Friday Nights.
By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Historic Dayton on the rebound

City square serves as core of community activity

Of all the cities in the Yamhill Valley, none has preserved its pioneer roots more completely and conscientiously than Dayton.

Dayton’s current identity as a community is of foremost concern to local leaders. They take pride in their ongoing efforts to make their town a desirable place to live, and that pride is rooted in heritage.

The site of a recent gathering of members of Dayton’s core leadership group perfectly characterized both their enthusiastic involvement and the tangible evidence of their success.

Karl Klooster

Klooster is the News-Register's regional editor and wine columnist.

> See his column

In 1886, the stately brick First Baptist Church building went up at the northwest corner of Third and Main streets. Standing empty in more recent years, its total renovation by Dayton native Bill Stoller, who co-founded Express Employment Professionals before establishing a local winemaking operation, has made it the centerpiece of a major redevelopment project.

Jason and Erin Aust, owners of The Block House Cafe, leaped at the opportunity last November to move their popular eatery over from its original Ferry Street site to the new site on Main Street. They still abut Courthouse Square Park, but at a different point.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Austs have already taken advantage of its spacious interior.

They serve breakfast and lunch six days a week — all but Sunday — and dinner as well on Friday night. Their normal hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but they remain open until 8 on Friday.

Following the 3 p.m. closing on Thursday, March 12, a group of local leaders met with this writer at a table positioned precisely in the middle of this strikingly refurbished space.

Included were Jason Aust, who augments his role as chef and co-owner at the cafe by serving as president of the Dayton Community Development Association’s board of directors; Dr. John Collins, a DCDA co-founder and creator of the community website; and Steve Hopper, pastor of Dayton’s historic Pioneer Evangelical Church. They were joined by City Councilor Trini Marquez, Mayor Beth Wytoski, Fire Chief Brett Putman and School Board Chair Yvonne Valdenegro-Craig.

From this diverse gathering of city officials and civic leaders, a picture of clear planning and prudent guidance of the city’s present and future came into focus.

Marquez noted that Iglesia San Martin de Porres currently boasts an all-Hispanic congregation numbering more than 400 members. The Catholic mission’s struggle for survival was major news in 2010, owing to a budget squeeze and subsequent internal issues at St. James Church.

A reprieve came in the form of a donation from Evergreen International Aviation founder Del Smith, allowing the congregation to acquire new quarters on Ferry Street. This generous gift kept Dayton’s Hispanic community together.

It is but one aspect of the welcoming attitude that motivated Martinez to settle in Dayton in 1978 to raise a family. She began volunteering for her church and eventually decided to run for city council.

Although a relative newcomer, Aust was exploring the area with his wife, hoping to find just the right place to open a restaurant. What hooked them was a couple of hours spent relaxing in Courthouse Square Park.

“It just felt right,” he said. “We loved it. That’s all it took. And now we have something we never imagined.”

His eatery has become a popular place for locals to gather in the morning over coffee. “If you want to know what’s cookin’ in Dayton, drop by The Block House,” Aust said.

“Almost everybody knows everybody,” Valdenegro-Craig said. “If you know your neighbors, you don’t create problems for them.

“Kids do something wrong and it gets back to their parents. We work things out. After all, in a town this size, there are only two degrees of separation.”

She said, “The schools are a great example of that. Our citizens voted to support a bond measure. Goals are being set and met, and we couldn’t be more proud of our two state championship teams.

Mayor Wytoski noted Dayton has come a long way in recent years in reversing a long economic slide due to detrimental developments in the farming, food processing and shipping industries.

“We have master plans in place for all the city’s operations, like parks and water,” she said. “And we’re working hard to improve streets and sidewalks. We are well ahead of many other cities.

Wytoski went on to cite the city’s purchase of 60 acres of adjacent farmland to augment the municipal water supply while providing rental income. That’s not to mention the city’s most noteworthy accomplishment in recent years — acquisition of the old Masonic Lodge to serve as a community center.

“Most of the cost was covered by grants,” she said, referring to the purchase and renovation. “Very little money came out of pocket from the city.”

Perhaps the most perplexing problem facing Dayton is growth. The city has reached the limits of its Urban Growth Boundary, except for a pocket undesirable for development and annexation.

“We’re not opposed to the UGB in principle,” Collins said. “But to say we don’t need any more, when the additional area we’re allowed to annex is on the other side of Highway 18, where it isn’t feasible for us to supply utilities infrastructure, doesn’t make sense.”

Development on adjacent farmland just east of town is, by contrast, quite feasible. But current rules don’t allow that.

“In fact,” Collins said, “we’re told that Dayton is going to be a test case on this issue.”

Putman is another native. His attachment to the town is akin to super glue.

His parents owned Putt’s Market on Ferry Street for 43 years. He worked there from the age of 10 until its closure in 2012.

For several years, he was simultaneously managing the store and fire department, the latter on an unpaid basis. After the family store closed, Dayton finally began paying him a salary for his work overseeing 38 volunteer firefighters and medics serving eight square miles.

For years, Putt’s Market hosted the Coffee Klatch at a big round table in the front window, a morning gathering of longtime residents that became a tradition in town. “The DCDA was formed at the Coffee Klatch,” Collins noted.

Wytoski said change has traditionally been steady but gradual, both in the larger community and at city hall. The recession put everything on hold for a while, but the community is on the move again now, she said.

“Now, budgets are going up a bit and there are more new home permits,” she said. “We are emerging from the recession and we will be reinvesting. ”

Stoller’s ambitious Courthouse Square renovation plan demonstrates that. It promises to be a defining factor in Dayton’s future. And the community’s success in winning admission to the national Main Street Program puts it in good position to take advantage.

As Collins noted, “When you come to Dayton, it centers on the square.”

Hopper, a George Fox alum who came to Dayton 14 years ago, spoke to the community’s faith element. He said Dayton’s five churches have established a strong working alliance that benefits everyone.

“All the pastors meet regularly,” he said. “The food and clothing banks are important parts of our community outreach.

“I’m chairing the Dayton Fiesta Run this year. It’s on Sept. 12 and all proceeds go to the food bank.”

A new community event, Dayton Friday Nights, was launched last year. It runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

TGIF features fun family entertainment every Friday evening for 16 weeks.

An old and long-honored community event, Old Timers Weekend, went on a seven-year hiatus before being revived last year. It represents one more example of a rebound in local fortunes.

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — getting caught up in the infectious spirit of Dayton’s drive to do it better.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at kklooster@newsregister.com or phone at 503-687-1227.

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS