Dayton, Tennessee: Beyond the Scopes Trial –
History, Adventure, and Southern Charm Await

The summer sun beat down on Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. The air crackled with anticipation, a far cry from the usual quiet hum of this small town. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was on trial for defying the Butler Act, a law that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools. The “Monkey Trial,” as it was dubbed by the press, was a national spectacle. Reporters swarmed the streets, their cameras flashing like fireflies. Lawyers, both celebrated and eccentric, argued science versus religion in the courthouse square.

While the trial itself wasn’t much of a victory for Scopes (he was found guilty, though the verdict was later overturned), it ignited a national conversation about science education and religious freedom. Even today, the Rhea County Courthouse, where the trial took place, stands as a monument to this pivotal moment in American history. Visitors can take a self-guided tour, walk the same halls where Scopes and his lawyers strategized, and feel the weight of history.

But Dayton offers more than just a glimpse into the past. Here are some other things visitors to East Tennessee can enjoy:

  • Dayton Depot Museum: Immerse yourself in local history at the Dayton Depot Museum. Learn about the town’s founding, the rise and fall of the coal industry, and of course, the Scopes Trial.
  • The Wreck of the Bessie: Take a short drive to explore the haunting remains of the “Bessie,” a steamboat that mysteriously sank in the Tennessee River in 1928.
  • Outdoor Adventure: Hike or bike the scenic trails at Cumberland Trail State Park, or go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River.
  • Scratching Rock Archaeological Preserve: Explore ancient petroglyphs carved into sandstone cliffs by Native Americans thousands of years ago.
  • The Square: Stroll through the charming downtown square, lined with local shops and cafes. Grab a sweet tea and a slice of pecan pie, a true taste of the South.

Dayton may be known for the Scopes Trial, but it’s also a place of natural beauty, rich history, and Southern hospitality. So, come for the trial, but stay for the adventure!