Small-town Dayton packed with history
A little more than a half-hour north of Chattanooga, Dayton, Tenn., has all the trappings of a small town but with lots of history.
Best known for the 1925 Scopes Trial held over the teaching of evolution in local schools, the county seat of Dayton also is home to a pair of downtown parks, and the surrounding countryside has plenty of outdoor recreation and back roads filled with beautiful farmland and mountains.
Raymond Walker, executive director of the Rhea Economic and Tourism Council, said the county has plenty to offer day-trippers.
"It's proven that we have some wonderful attractions," Walker said. "One of our biggest is the Rhea County Courthouse."
Walker said visitation at the courthouse has been growing recently and volunteers are keeping the Scopes Trial Museum open on weekends in the summer. The museum is in the basement of the courthouse.
Walker also recommends a visit to the new historical museum in Spring City, where a hand-carved wooden replica of the town is on display along with other relics and historical artifacts.
"Either of those would keep you busy all day long," he said.
AT A GLANCE
-- Population: 30,809 in Rhea County; 6,180 in Dayton; 2,025 in Spring City; and 1,411 in Graysville.
-- Outdoor activities: Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, bike, canoe and kayak in Rhea County's mountains and the waters of the Tennessee and Piney rivers. The Cumberland Trail, now under construction to tie together its various parts, will extend 300 miles from its northern terminus in the Cumberland Gap National Park in Kentucky to its southern terminus at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park at Signal Mountain just outside Chattanooga. One segment of the Cumberland Trail in the Laurel-Snow state natural area is located on the west side of Dayton about 2.5 miles outside of town in an isolated hollow on Richland Creek. The site is named after two scenic waterfalls, the 80-foot Laurel Falls and the 35-foot Snow Falls.
-- Largest employers: La-Z-Boy Manufacturing in Dayton is the largest employer in the county, followed by Suburban Manufacturing Co. and Robinson Manufacturing Co.
-- Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 38 to downtown Dayton, 55 to downtown Spring City.
-- Landmarks: Rhea County's eastern side borders more than 40 miles of the Tennessee River while the west side consists of Walden's Ridge, the easternmost ridge of the Cumberland Plateau. The Piney River runs from west to east in Spring City near Rhea's northern border.
-- County history: Rhea County -- with a 33-mile-long, 13-mile-wide footprint -- was created in 1807 from Roane County and was named in honor of John Rhea (1753-1832), Revolutionary War soldier, member of the North Carolina and Tennessee state houses, member of the U.S. Congress, and U.S. commissioner to treat with the Choctaws, according to the Tennessee Blue Book.
-- Dayton history: Originally named Smith's Crossroads in the early 1800s, Dayton became the county seat in 1889.
-- Famous residents: John Scopes, former Rhea County High School football coach and history teacher, became famous as the focus of the historic Scopes v. Tennessee trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. Bluegrass legend Curly Fox is memorialized in a museum in Graysville. Former University of Tennessee Volunteers standout and longtime arena league quarterback Andy Kelly and current Atlanta Braves pitcher Cory Gearrin hail from the area.
-- Unique traditions: The Tennessee Strawberry Festival: First held in 1947, the festival celebrates Rhea County's annual strawberry crop and has since become a 10-day celebration of small-town life. Festivalgoers can enjoy carnival rides on the south end of town or investigate dozens of arts, crafts and food vendors set up on the courthouse square. For almost half a century, strawberry production was one of Rhea County's principal industries. At its height, the local crop produced about 4 million quarts of berries a year. The Scopes Trial and Festival: The play and festival held every summer details the backstory about the events prior to the 1925 Scopes Trial. At the time, as a way to bring national attention to Dayton, local leaders met at F.E. Robinson's drugstore and recruited teacher John Scopes to test the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. A museum featuring artifacts from the trial era along with exhibits highlighting local all-state athletes, Rhea County black history, Curly Fox and Bryan College history is housed in the basement of the Rhea County Courthouse.