Dayton, Tennessee

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Dayton, Tennessee
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Page(s): 
36–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every July, throngs of tourists descend on tiny Dayton,Tennessee, to celebrate the Scopes Trial Play and Festival. This festival, which is sponsored by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, includes a re-enactment of John Scopes's famous trial in 1925 for allegedly teaching evolution in the local public school. Although Scopes's trial accomplished nothing from a legal perspective (his conviction was set aside two years later by the Tennessee Supreme Court), it nevertheless remains the most famous event in the history of the evolution-creationism controversy.

John Scopes's famous trial was instigated by Dayton businessmen as a publicity stunt to attract investors to the area. As Congressman Foster Brown of Chattanooga noted, the trial was "not a fight for evolution or against evolution, but a fight against obscurity." Scopes's trial brought hundreds of visitors to Dayton, but within a week after the trial, virtually all of the spectators, street preachers, circus performers, and hucksters had left town, and Dayton returned to normal. Some people profited from the trial, but the long-term economic stimulus that the trial's instigators had sought never materialized. Several years after the trial, Bryan College opened in Dayton to honor the ideals of William Jennings Bryan, one of Scopes's prosecutors.

Figure 1: John Scopes’s famous trial for teaching evolution occurred in the second-floor courtroom of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

John Scopes's trial was held in the Rhea County Courthouse (Figure 1). The courthouse, an Italian villa-style building built in 1891, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and was restored with the completion of the Scopes Trial Museum in the courthouse basement in 1978. At the front of the famous courtroom is posted a page from the Congressional Record listing the Ten Commandments. In 2005, a Cessna Decosimo statue of William Jennings Bryan was unveiled outside the courthouse; this statue depicts Bryan in 1891, when he began his Congressional career, and when the courthouse was built.

Scopes Trial Landmarks

Visitors to Dayton will find a number of sites that played important roles during the Scopes Trial. Thanks largely to the efforts of Bryan College Professor Emeritus Richard Cornelius, many of these sites have been preserved and marked with "Scopes Trial Trail" plaques (designated with an asterisk in the list below). A map of Scopes Trial sites with a complete legend can be found at http://www.bryan.edu/1990.html.

The Rhea County Courthouse and Scopes Trial Museum (Figure 1) is in the center of Dayton. Scopes's trial was held in the second-floor courtroom,which still contains several items from the famous trial (for example, the judge's desk and dais rail).*

FE Robinson's home on the corner of 3rd and Market Streets was the home of "The Hustling Druggist," who helped initiate the Scopes Trial. It was occupied by photographers during the proceedings.*

Darwin Cunnyngham home on Market Street housed journalists during the Scopes Trial.

McKenzie Law Office, which is adjacent to the Robinson home,was formerly used by Jim McKenzie, the nephew of JG McKenzie and grandson of Ben McKenzie. In 2007, Jim McKenzie was a judge in the Rhea Family Court.*

WC Bailey's boardinghouse on the northeastern corner of 4th and Market Streets was where John Scopes lived when he worked in Dayton. Scopes's father, journalist Bugs Baer, and briefly the chimpanzee Joe Mendi also stayed at the house during Scopes's trial.*

AM Morgan home at the southwest corner of 7th and the alley was where journalist HL Mencken lived during the Scopes Trial. After Scopes's trial, Morgan was a founder of Bryan College.

Rhea County High School (southwest of Dayton) was where John Scopes taught and coached in 1924–1925. Bryan College used the building from 1930–1935.*

Ballard/Bailey house at the northwest corner of 3rd and Church Streets was where chimpanzee Joe Mendi stayed during the Scopes Trial after being evicted from Bailey's boardinghouse.

Luke Morgan home, located at the southwest corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, is where Clarence Darrow and his wife Ruby stayed during the Scopes Trial. Luke Morgan, a former student of John Scopes, testified during the trial.

Morgan Furniture Company on Market Street housed reporters during the Scopes Trial. The business has been open since 1909.*

Bailey Hardware housed more than 100 reporters during the Scopes Trial. Until recently the building — on Market Street between 1st and Main — housed an antique store.*

Thomison Hospital, Wilkey Barbershop, and Richard Rogers Pharmacy were all in this area. Rogers worked at Robinson's Drug Store during the Scopes Trial, and later opened a pharmacy here. West of Rogers Pharmacy was the Wilkey Barbershop. On May 19, 1925, barbers Virgil Wilkey and Thurlow Reed staged a fake fight at the courthouse with George Rappleyea to promote the upcoming Scopes Trial. Above Rogers Pharmacy was a hospital operated by Walter Agnew Thomison, whose father,Walter F Thomison, was the attending physician at William Jennings Bryan's death. A sign for Thomison's office remains on the wall of the building near the intersection of Main and Market Streets.

Hicks Law Office, located in the second lot from the southeast corner of Main and Market Streets, was used by Scopes prosecutors Herbert and Sue Hicks.

Robinson's Drug Store was where several of Dayton's businessmen devised the Scopes Trial. Adjacent to the drug store was the three-story Aqua Hotel,where John Neal, John Raulston, Arthur Hays, Dudley Malone, and Clarence Darrow stayed, met, or ate during the trial.*

Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built two years after the Scopes Trial; FE Robinson was a member of that church. When Clarence Darrow returned to Dayton after the Scopes Trial and saw this church, he commented,"I guess I didn't do much good here after all." The church no longer is affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination.

First United Methodist Church was where William Jennings Bryan made his last public appearance. During Scopes's trial, the church at this site — the northwest corner of California Avenue and Market Street — was a Southern Methodist church.*

Richard Rogers home was where William Jennings Bryan and his entourage stayed during and after the Scopes Trial. Bryan died in his sleep in the Rogers' home on July 26, 1925. Only the retaining wall of the property is as it was in 1925.*

AP Haggard, the father of Scopes prosecutor Wallace Haggard, built his home across the street from the Richard Rogers home.*

Walter F Thomison built this home for Ella Darwin, his 16–year-old wife. Thomison's house is now called Magnolia House.*

Broyles–Darwin home is on the National Historic Register and housed reporters during the Scopes Trial. SD Broyles, who built the house in 1861,was the first resident of the village in 1820.*

Cedar Hill, the first hospital in Dayton,was built in 1929 by Walter Agnew Thomison. The building was used by Bryan College from 1932–1938 and 1967–1984.*

Bryan College was opened in 1930 as a memorial to Scopes prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. The campus includes several exhibits related to the Scopes Trial, and several of the college's founders were involved in the trial.*

Dayton Coal & Iron Company is a former mining operation that was managed by George Rappleyea, an instigator of the Scopes Trial. The land is now a recreational area, but coke ovens remain visible. Blast furnaces of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company were at this site, which now is covered by sports fields.

St Genevieve's Academy at 449 Delaware Road was where some children of Dayton Coal and Iron Company employees were educated before the Scopes Trial. Today the school building — which was built in 1891 — houses Fehn's 1891 Restaurant.

The Mansion was an 18-room house renovated by George Rappleyea to house several members of the defense team during the Scopes Trial. The house, which was atop a knoll overlooking the furnaces and company store of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company, had been vacant for more than a decade. Before he moved into the Morgans' home, Clarence Darrow stayed at the Mansion, and it was at the Mansion that Darrow and Kirtley Mather prepared for Darrow's questioning of William Jennings Bryan. In Inherit the Wind, several of the participants stayed at a hotel named "The Mansion".

Buttram Cemetery just outside Dayton is where many of the participants in the Scopes Trial are buried.

Dayton Drive-In Theater, which was 2.5 miles north of Dayton,was the site of the US premiere of Inherit the Wind.