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.