For more than a century, residents of Dayton and nearby Genoa have battled it out over the bragging rights to be called Nevada's oldest town.

Historians have long sided with Genoa, crediting a group of Salt Lake City traders with starting Nevada's first permanent white settlement there in June 1851 when it was known as Mormon Station.But now, some historians are embracing new research that shows Dayton actually may have beaten Genoa to it - by only a couple of weeks or so.

The research, detailed in an article in the latest edition of Nevada Magazine due to hit newsstands on Tuesday, shows Dayton's permanent habitation dates back to a throng of California gold miners who arrived there in May 1851.

"It supports what we've been saying for years - that we were first," said fourth-generation Daytonite Ray Walmsley, 73. "History in a way is as phony as a $3 bill. A lot of things in history don't turn out to be true."

Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha agreed: "I give the nod to Dayton because it had the first continuous habitation."

But other historians disagree, insisting Genoa still should be considered Nevada's first settlement since it had permanent structures a full year before the first known buildings surfaced in Dayton in 1852.

"Just a bunch of miners congregating in a canyon isn't a settlement," said Reno history writer Stanley Paher. "It's an encampment. Structures are needed to establish the idea of permanency. I still think Genoa wins the day."

Genoa and Dayton sprang up within 25 miles of each other during the California gold rush when thousands of covered-wagon pioneers streamed through them. Genoa is 13 miles south of Carson City, and Dayton is 12 miles east of the capital.

The Nevada Magazine article cites an obscure diary by a pioneer who spent 12 days at Dayton with the gold miners beginning May 28, 1851. It's one of only two known 1851 diaries that mention the towns.

The diarist, Lucena Parsons, described Dayton as a hotbed of activity at the very moment Genoa founder John Reese passed by on his way to Genoa.

Dayton then was known as Gold Canyon because of its location at the canyon's mouth.

"This morning there was a general turn out to the mines," Parsons wrote in her June 3 entry. "Some go up the canyon as far as 4 or 5 miles while others go up one or 2 miles. In fact it is alive with diggers from the mouth up."

Reese reached Dayton on June 5 before heading to Genoa the next day, Parsons wrote.

Miners continued to work their placers throughout 1851, marking the start of Dayton's continuous habitation, according to primary sources cited in the Nevada Magazine article.

Despite the new research, historians agree it's unlikely the first-settlement dispute will be settled anytime soon.

The meaning of the word "settlement" is vague and historians are split on whether one requires a permanent structure, they said.

"My personal position is that a settlement wouldn't require a permanent structure," said Lonn Taylor, a historian for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

"The permanent structure argument might rule out Jamestown and Plymouth since new research indicates they had only semi-permanent structures."

But James Hulse, a University of Nevada, Reno history professor emeritus, said he thinks Dayton was merely a mining camp until it gained its first permanent struc-tures.

"My experience is miners rove around," he said. "They can be moving up and down Gold Canyon, and that doesn't constitute a settlement.

"A settlement denotes someone who builds a house or permanent structure. John Reese's log building at Genoa is a lot firmer than anything at Dayton. That to me is a settlement."

Rocha, the state archivist, said the new research at least clarifies why Genoa and Dayton residents have been debating the issue for so long.

"After almost 150 years, thanks to the research, we clearly know what the fuss is all about," he said. "What is Nevada's first settlement comes down to how you define terms."

Like their ancestors, the towns' residents show no signs of backing down.

Both towns plan to continue passing out brochures to tourists saying their community was first. And both already plan to hold celebrations in 2001 marking their 150th anniversary as Nevada's first settlement.