Students learn how the famous Scopes Trial in 1925 helped to put Dayton on the map.
History lessons are usually taught in the classroom. However, this past Monday, that was not the case for the fifth graders at Dayton City School. Fifth grade teachers Freddy Cochran, Jennifer Dillard, Amber Murphy, and Tim Kelley escorted their classes up to the famous Rhea County Courthouse for a field trip to learn about the 1925 historical Scopes Trial, an event that put Dayton, TN on the map.
Approx. 80 anxious fifth graders were welcomed to the Rhea County Courthouse courtroom by Tom Davis of the Rhea County Historical Society. Davis proceeded to give the students a brief introduction on the history of the building itself, which was constructed in 1891. The trial was held in the courthouse 34 years after it was constructed.
In an abbreviated lesson, Mr. Davis explained how the famous trial came to be in Dayton. The children learned about how the State of Tennessee had recently passed a law forbidding any teacher in the State of Tennessee from denying the biblical account of man’s origin. The law was known as the “Butler Act”. Davis went on to explain how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had advertised in Tennessee newspapers for a teacher to challenge the law.
Davis continued the lesson stating that was when George Rappleyea, an engineer and manager of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company, saw this as a chance to put Dayton on the map and boost the local economy at the same time. With the newspaper in hand, Rappleyea quickly made his way down to F.E. Robinson’s Drug Store, where he sold the idea to Dayton officials.
Mr. Davis explained to the children how John Thomas Scopes, a Rhea County High School teacher, agreed to be used to challenge the new law. Scopes was indicted by the Rhea County grand jury and stood trial in this very courtroom they were standing in.
The students were completely amazed at the fact that they were sitting in the original spectator’s seats, in the very courtroom, where the trial had taken place. Davis continued to explain to the children about how Scopes had been found guilty at the conclusion of the trial. However, in January of 1927, the guilty verdict was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
It was back during that long hot summer of 1925, that the events that had occurred here, allowed Rhea County to be in the history books forever. Today, all the fifth grade students have been allowed the opportunity to learn something about the history of their hometown, while taking a walk through the museum of our famous courthouse.