Historic Sites

A short day trip can take you to many of East Tennessee’s most visited historic sites. Here are just a few to get you started.

  • The Scopes Trial
  • Bryan College
  • TN Valley Authority
  • Trail of Tears
  • Blythe Ferry
  • The Scopes Trial

    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 was renovated in the 1970’s and is now a National Historic Landmark. The Rhea Heritage and Scopes Trial Museum is housed in the basement of the courthouse. 

    The Rhea Heritage and Scopes Trial Museum is open Monday- Friday 8:00 a.m. -4:30 p.m.

    Keener Marketing. Discover Dayton. Dayton: Keener Publishing, 2008. Print.
  • William Jennings Bryan College

    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.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority

    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.
  • Trail of Tears

    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.
  • Blythe Ferry

    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.


  • City of Dayton
  • City of Graysville
  • Town of Spring City