Historic Sites & Attractions

The Scopes Trial | Bryan College | TN Valley Authority | Trail of Tears | Blythe Ferry
Local Attractions


Without a doubt, Dayton’s biggest claim to fame is the trial of John T. Scopes. This prominent case is sometimes called “The Scopes Monkey Trial” in reference to the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

On January 21, 1925, Rep. John Washington Butler introduced to the Tennessee House of Representatives House Bill No. 185 which would make it “unlawful for any teacher in any of the ... public schools of the state ... to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Shortly after the bill became law, the American Civil Liberties Union decided to test the validity of the law. On May 4, The Chattanooga Times carried a story about their plan. George Rappleyea took the paper to Robinson’s Drug Store where he and the proprietor, F. E. Robinson discussed the matter at length.

The next day, during a “chance” meeting at Robinson’s Drug Store, Mr. Rappleyea, County School Superintendent Walter White, city officials, and lawyers, made the decision to get involved. Rhea Central High School teacher John Scopes agreed to be the defendant and was served with a warrant charging him with violating the statute.

The trial itself might have quickly faded into history if it were not for the prominent figures assembled to debate the case. .William Jennings Bryan, a three time presidential candidate, was invited to assist the prosecution. His presence was desirable because he had played a role in securing the passage of the anti-evolution bill and because of his national stature.

The day after Bryan announced that he would come to Dayton, Clarence Darrow, one of America’s foremost defense attorneys, was urged to offer his services. By the end of that week, Mr. Darrow and New York divorce lawyer Dudley Field Malone had volunteered to assist Dr. John R. Neal, a Spring City attorney, with the defense.

The religious nature of the trial raised questions that a victory by the fundamentalists might launch a political movement and propel Bryan into a fourth run for the presidency.

The scientific question at hand begged for attention: Did man evolve from a lower species or was he created by God? That question reflected 65 years of increasing conflict between the then-developing theory of evolution and the popularly held “young earth” view of creation.

Held in the intense heat of July 1925, the subject matter and publicity combined to create an atmosphere much like a carnival. It became what some called “the media event of the century” before it culminating in Darrow’s historic cross-examination of Bryan.

When the smoke cleared, Scopes was convicted and fined $100 and Rhea County had found its way into the pages of every American history book. The Rhea County Courthouse has been renovated and is now a National Historic Landmark. The Scopes Trial Museum is housed in the basement of the courthouse.

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During the Scopes trial Bryan expressed the wish that a school might be established in Dayton to teach truth from a Biblical perspective. Immediately after the trial, Bryan became ill and rested in Dayton for five days before dying on July 26.

Following his death a national memorial association was formed to help make his dream of a school into a reality. William Jennings Bryan University was chartered in 1930 and admitted its first class in the fall of that year, only five years after Bryan’s death. It opened on September 18 in the old high school where Scopes’ teaching of evolution allegedly occurred.

The college now sits on an 125-acre campus on a hilltop overlooking Dayton and enrolls over 700 students from 40 states and seven foreign countries. Additionally, there are nearly 400 students in graduate, distance learning and degree completion programs. Bryan currently offers 40 major fields of study. Like its namesake it is dedicated to the principles of conservative Christianity.

Bryan is an accredited, independent, four-year, Christian liberal arts institution offering Associates’ and Bachelors’ degrees in 16 areas including Athletic Training, Bible, Biology, Business Administration, Christian Education, Communication Studies, Computer Science, Elementary Education Licensure, English, Exercise and Health Science, History, Liberal Arts, Mathematics, Music, Psychology and Spanish. Eighty percent of the faculty holds earned doctoral degrees.

The Bryan College Lions participate in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). The athletic department includes men’s baseball, basketball, cross country and soccer, and women’s basketball, cross country, soccer, and volleyball.

Keener Marketing. Discover Dayton. Dayton: Keener Publishing, 2008. Print.



The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), established in 1933, changed the face of Rhea County more drastically than anything since the Rhea-Meigs division of 1836. The damming of the Tennessee River resulted in the formation of Watts Bar and Chickamauga Lakes. The reservoirs attract millions of outdoor enthusiasts each year for fishing, boating and swimming.

Chickamauga is named for a tribe of Native Americans that broke away from the Cherokee Nation in the 1700s. They lived in villages along North Chickamauga Creek, which joins the river just below Chickamauga Dam.

The construction of Chickamauga Dam began in 1936 and was completed in 1940. Chickamauga provides 784 miles of shoreline and about 36,240 acres of water surface. Before TVA established Chickamauga and other reservoirs above Chattanooga, the city had one of the most serious flooding problems in the nation. Now the river which threatened the city contributes to its economy as a major artery for barge traffic.

Construction on the Watts Bar Hydroelectric Dam and Steam Plant was completed in January of 1942, three weeks after Pearl Harbor. They provided, not only power for the Tennessee Valley but urgently needed electricity for the war effort. They powered the Atomic Energy Commission’s top secret research at Oak Ridge that led to the development of the atomic bomb.

Watts Bar provides 722 miles of shoreline and over 39,090 acres of water surface. Watts Bar, located about midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, is one of nine TVA dams on the Tennessee River. A scenic overlook near the dam provides visitors with a panoramic view of the reservoir and surrounding countryside. Progress comes at a price however; the dams also inundated low lying communities like Rhea Springs and some of the richest farmland in Rhea County.

Keener Marketing. Discover Dayton. Dayton: Keener Publishing, 2008. Print.



The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail memorializes the removal of the Cherokee and marks the paths that 17 Cherokee detachments followed westward. Approximately 16,000 men, women and children made this arduous journey under adverse conditions. No one knows for sure, but it is estimated that up to one-forth of the Cherokee Nation perished on this journey and in internment camps. Today the trail includes about 2,200 miles of land and water routes and traverses portions of nine states.

In 1838 the U.S. Army implemented a federal government policy removing Native Americans from their homelands in the southern Appalachian Mountains to facilitate settlement by whites. The Cherokees were driven from their homes into stockades scattered throughout Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina and then moved to internment camps in southeastern Tennessee. From there, detachments of Cherokees were forcibly moved over water and land routes to Indian Territory (in what is now Oklahoma).

To remember these tragic events, Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in 1987. Although the federal government forced several southeastern tribes to move during the 1820s and 1830s, the congressionally designated trail is specific to the Cherokee experience. Several events are organized along the trail to remember those who walked this route including motorcycle rides, runs, re-enactments and heritage festivals.

The northern route of the Trail of Tears passes through Dayton and is marked with road signs throughout town. The trail enters town along Hwy 60 W and leaves Dayton along Hwy 30 headed west.

Tennessee Chapter, Trail of Tears Association
330 Baker Mountain Rd, Spencer TN 38585

National Trails System-Santa Fe
(505) 988-6888 | www.nps.gov/trte/index.htm

Just across the highway 60 bridge near Birchwood in Meigs County is the Cherokee Removal Park. In 1938 approximately 9,000 Cherokees and Creeks camped here waiting to cross the Tennessee River at Blythe Ferry. The river crossing was slow, and some groups waited up to two months for their turn to cross the river.

Cherokee Removal Park
6800 Blythe Ferry Ln, Birchwood
(931) 484-9571

At Audubon Acres in Chattanooga visitors can learn about the typical agricultural life experienced by the Cherokee at the time of their removal. The visitor center has exhibits on the Trail of Tears, Brainerd Mission and Cherokee culture. A log cabin on the property is said to have been the home of Drowning Bear, a Cherokee who was removed on the Trail of Tears. The sanctuary is certified on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and is owned and operated by the:

Chattanooga Audubon Society, Inc.
900 North Sanctuary Rd, Chattanooga
(423) 892-1499 | www.ChattanoogaAudubon.org

Keener Marketing. Discover Dayton. Dayton: Keener Publishing, 2008. Print.



William Blythe, a Native American with European and Cherokee heritage, and his wife, Nancy Fields, the daughter of a Cherokee leader, established one of the first permanent ferries on the eastern Tennessee River around 1809. In return for signing the Treaty of 1819 Blythe received a 640-acre reservation at the mouth of the Hiwassee River which came to mark the northwestern boundary of Cherokee lands.

Nine Cherokee detachments made their departure from their ancestral lands there making Blythe Ferry an important Trail of Tears landmark. Some time after the last Cherokee detachments departed for the West, Blythe was forced to give up his business and landholdings and move his wife and six children to Indian Territory. Blythe died in present-day Oklahoma in 1856. During the Civil War, a company of the Tennessee Infantry was stationed for over a year at the ferry to guard the mouth of the Hiwassee River. The war’s official records note a skirmish at Blythe Ferry on November 13, 1863. It was one of only five remaining ferries in the state before being replaced by a bridge in 1994 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Keener Marketing. Discover Dayton. Dayton: Keener Publishing, 2008. Print.



A short day trip can take you to many of East Tennessee’s most visited attractions. Here are just a few to get you started. Whether you’re looking for history, adventure, nature or theater, it’s all here!

Wooden’s Apple House
Visit this rural orchard on the mountain for fresh apples from August until the end of the season. Enjoy homemade apple dumplings, fried pies, cider and more. Then peruse the gift shop for more apple products, gifts and crafts.

6351 New Harmony Rd, Pikeville | (423) 447-6376

Brush Creek Farms
Produce, fall decor, hay rides and a corn maze.

934 Lumber Lane, Dayton | (423) 775-4484 | www.brushcreekfarmstn.com

Watts Bar Lake & Watts Bar Dam
The sprawling 38,000-acre lake above Watts Bar Dam is one of the state’s best sport fishing areas whether you like to fish a bobber for bluegill or bream, cast plugs for feisty bass or set your hook into giant rockfish. The area provides sport fishing, rustic camping, water sports, picnic facilities and hiking trails. Nestled near the majestic Cumberland Mountains, Watts Bar Lake features 783 miles of shoreline and provides the largest inland nesting population of ospreys in the Southeast. Ospreys nest May-July, concentrated between the Euchee Boat Dock and Thief Neck Island. Concentrations of great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, and great egrets may be seen near Long Island. Waterfowl and bald eagles are common in winter and be sure to look for white-tailed deer, raccoon, woodchuck, muskrat, fox, mink, skunk and coyote.

Highway 68, Spring City | (423) 775-6171 or (888) 238-3263 PIN 1318

Rhea County Courthouse and Scopes Trial Museum
Site of the 1925 Scopes Evolution Trial, the Rhea County Courthouse is now a National Historic Landmark housing the Scopes Trial Museum. Inside you’ll find photos from the trial, information about its key players, creation vs. evolution and other local history. Courtroom tours are available. The Courthouse is at the intersection of Market Street and Hwy 30.

Tennessee Valley Theatre
An amateur theater with professional quality shows, The Tennessee Valley Theatre now hosts multiple plays each year in addition to numerous special events including live music. It produces a minimum of four plays each year including two musicals and sponsors a free summer children’s theater workshop every year. The theater also hosts a variety of talent from concert pianists to bluegrass and rock and roll bands.

184 West Jackson Ave, Spring City | (423) 365-PLAY, (423) 365-7529
www.TennesseeValleyTheatre.com  | tvt@tennesseevalleytheatre.com

Crystal Lanes Bowling
Crystal Lanes makes family fun affordable with specials like $2 game night on Tuesday, two for one bowling on Sunday and rent-a-lane for $8.50/hr. on Monday and Thursday.

2565 Old Graysville Rd, Dayton | (423) 775-1547

Crystal Springs Skate Center
This indoor rink is open year round. Skating provides great exercise - plus, it’s not like exercising at the gym - skating is fun! Lace-em up and come join in.

2605 Old Graysville Rd. Dayton | (423) 421-3614

Rock City Gardens
Located atop Lookout Mountain, near downtown Chattanooga, Rock City is a true marvel of nature. Experience massive rock formations, gardens with hundreds of native plant species, the famous “See 7 States” panoramic view, the Enchanted Trail, Fairyland Caverns and Mother Gose Village, the Garden of Lights at Christmas and the Enchanted MAiZE in the fall.

1400 Patton Rd, Lookout Mountain, GA | (800) 854-0675 | www.SeeRockCity.com

Ruby Falls
Ruby Falls is a large, sparkling 145 foot waterfall located beneath the peak of Lookout Mountain. A friendly and knowledgeable tour guide will point out many unusual and whimsically named formations. While at the waterfall guests will marvel at the spectacular light display which takes place in a large vaulted dome room which is over 145 feet tall. The main room is 1,120 feet beneath the surface of Lookout Mountain making it one of the deepest commercial caves in the country. Feel the cool, gentle mist and marvel at nature’s wonders.

1720 South Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga | (423) 821-2544 | www.RubyFalls.com

Chattanooga River Front
The Chattanooga river front is packed with outstanding restaurants, eclectic shops, parks and worldclass museums, all within a few blocks of the Tennessee Aquarium.

If you want to leave the car parked try The Fat Cat Ferry, Chattanooga’s newest riverfront addition. Disembark at Coolidge Park and ride the magnificent hand-carved carousel, enjoy the park’s lush landscaping and interactive fountain. Or take in the trendy local restaurants and shops on nearby Frazier Avenue. Then catch another ferry and continue your tour up river and around Maclellan Island, an 18-acre bird sanctuary.

The Hunter Museum of American Art, located in the beautiful Bluff View Art District, is just a two-block walk from the Aquarium through an outdoor sculpture garden and over a glass bridge.

Alongside the Aquarium, discover a dramatic underground passageway to the river that marks the beginning of the Trail of Tears and celebrates Native American culture. The wading pools and shady spots of The Passage are perfect when the summer sun is high in the sky. (“Swimmy” diapers, bathing suits and water shoes are recommended for little ones.)

For a relaxing dinner cruise on the Tennessee River complete with musical performances and prime rib, make a reservation on the Southern Belle Riverboat. Daytime sightseeing cruises and daily lunch cruises are also a treat.

Connecting all the fun is the Walnut Street bridge. Originally built in 1891, the 2,370 foot bridge was renovated in 1993 to become the world’s longest walkway bridge. It is now part of the Tennessee Riverpark, a beautiful section of the waterfront that is being converted into walking and biking paths. Phase one will include 22 miles of trails, easily accessible at 2 mile increments. The completed section begins at Ross’ Landing.

Tennessee Aquarium
The Tennessee Aquarium is home to more than 12,000 animals including fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds (including the new Penguins’ Rock exhibit), butterflies and more. Located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. It is open daily with first admittance at 10 AM and last admittance at 6 PM ET befire closing at 8 PM. Aquarium tickets include admittance to both Ocean Journey and River Journey. Extend your Tennessee Aquarium experience aboard the River Gorge Explorer. This high-tech vessel will transport you swiftly downstream from the Chattanooga Riverfront into the scenic Tennessee River Gorge. Each two-hour adventure is led by an Aquarium naturalist who will point out wildlife and historic points of interest along the way.

Don’t forget to add in a show at the IMAX®3D theater. From the far reaches of our solar system to the ocean depths of planet earth, IMAX takes you to places you’ve only imagined. With crystal clear, larger-than-life 3D images that leap off a six-story screen, you’ll feel as if you’re part of the action. Combination tickets are available for the Aquarium, IMAX and River Gorge Explorer.

One Broad St, Chattanooga | (800) 262-0695 | www.tnaqua.org

Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga Battlefields
The 3,000-acre Lookout Mountain Battlefield contains monuments, historical markers, trails, and scenic vistas. Point Park, located on the top of the mountain, is the most prominent feature. The Visitor Center, located across the street from Point Park, displays James Walker’s 13 x 33 foot painting “Battle of Lookout Mountain.” The 5,200-acre Chickamauga Battlefield, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War, contains numerous monuments, historical tablets, wayside exhibits, and trails. Major points of interest can be reached by following the seven-mile auto tour.

(706) 866-9241 | www.nps.gov/chch/

Cherokee Removal Memorial Park
A short drive east across the highway 60 bridge brings you to the historic Cherokee Removal Park, one of the main staging areas for the Trail of Tears. In 1938 approximately 9,000 Cherokees and Creeks camped here waiting to cross the Tennessee River at Blythe Ferry. In 1998 Joe Byrd, then Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, visited Hiwassee Refuge marking the initial dedication. Phase I including the boardwalk and wildlife overlooks at the top of the bluff are complete and open year-round. Phase II includes the Visitor’s Center which is now open, though staffing fluctuates and the Cherokee Genealogical Library. Phase III is a granite Memorial Wall. The park is open from sunrise to sunset and admission is free.

6800 Blythe Ferry Lane, Birchwood | (931) 484-9571

Other Certified Tennessee Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Sites in the area include:

  • Audubon Acres: located at 900 North Sanctuary Road in East Brainerd, which is a suburb of Chattanooga.
  • Brainerd Mission Cemetery: off Brainerd Road and Eastgate Loop Road near the Brainerd Village Shopping Center, in Chattanooga.
  • Browns Ferry Tavern: located at 703 Browns Ferry Road, a few miles west of Chattanooga.
  • Chattanooga Regional History Museum: is temporarily located in downtown Chattanooga, at 615 Lindsey St, Ste. 100.
Keener Marketing. Discover Dayton. Dayton: Keener Publishing, 2008. Print.