No stranger to controversy

No stranger to controversy

August 6th, 2012 by Ben Benton in Glimpse 2012-a

The Rhea County Courthouse in downtown Dayton is famous for the 1925 Scopes Trial.

The Rhea County Courthouse in downtown Dayton is...

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Dayton has been a longtime lightning rod for controversy going back to the Scopes Trial and leaping forward to posting the 10 Commandments in the county courthouse.

-- Compiled by staff writer Ben Benton

Get outside or check in on history

• Rhea County has lots of hiking, biking, kayaking and other outdoor activities in the local mountains and on the Tennessee and Piney rivers.

• Dayton's biggest claim to fame is the trial of John T. Scopes in the case sometimes called "The Scopes Monkey Trial" referring to the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools. The Scopes Trial Museum is housed in the basement of the Rhea County Courthouse on Market Street.

It's a long way from Smith's Crossroads

• Population: 30,809 in Rhea County; 6,180 in Dayton; 2,025 in Spring City; and 1,411 in Graysville.

• Biggest employers: La-Z-Boy Manufacturing in Dayton, Suburban Manufacturing Co. and Robinson Manufacturing Co.

• Landmarks or geographical features: The county's borders lie along the Tennessee River to the east and Walden's Ridge to the west.

• Date founded: Rhea County founded in 1807; Dayton became the county seat in 1889.

• History: Originally dubbed Smith's Crossroads in the early 1800s, Dayton was officially incorporated in 1903.

• Most famous residents (past, present; dead or alive): Dayton is home to a number of past and present notable residents including John Scopes, former Rhea County High School football coach and history teacher who became famous as the focus of the historic Scopes v. Tennessee trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. A museum in Graysville is dedicated to bluegrass legend Curly Fox. Former University of Tennessee quarterback and professional arena league standout Andy Kelly and current on-and-off-again pitcher for the Atlanta Braves Cory Gearrin both hail from the area.

• Unique tradition: Besides the festival dedicated to the red fruit, Dayton's other big festival is devoted to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, complete with a play staged in the same courtroom where the original trial took place in 1925.

• Unique characteristic: Watts Bar Lake, created on the Tennessee River by Watts Bar Dam in Spring City, has 783 miles of shoreline and offers one of the state's best sport fishing sites alongside rustic campgrounds and resort properties.

The Cumberland Trail, a state scenic trail, travels through the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area in Rhea County.

The Cumberland Trail, a state scenic trail, travels...

Photo by Meghan Brown

A short jaunt to outdoor beauty

The Laurel-Snow State Natural Area contains one segment of the Cumberland Trail just 2.5 miles outside the city limits.

• Laurel-Snow also contains a large number of old beehive coke ovens from the city's coal-mining past.

Source: Dayton Chamber of Commerce

Somebody say, 'Strawberry?'

• The Tennessee Strawberry Festival was first held in 1947 and now has become a 10-day event highlighting the county's famous produce, crafts and music around the large Rhea County Courthouse square and a carnival on the south end of town.

• The next festival will be held in May 2013.

Source: Dayton Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Strawberry Festival website,

Big-city dining in a historic setting

• Fehn's 1891 House Restaurant offers unique dining in a historic setting on the west side of town.

• The house was built in 1891 by Dayton Coal & Iron Co. and once served as a Catholic school for workers' children.

• he ground floor, now converted to dining rooms and kitchen' seats up to 60 guests.

Source: Fehn's 1891 House Restaurant website,