Rhea County

The Rhea County Courthouse


In the summer of 1925 national attention was focused on Rhea County. It was here that a teacher named John Scopes was tried for breaking a state law that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Since Scopes never denied what he did, he was found guilty and fined $100. That conviction – and the law – were later thrown out by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

However, the Scopes Trial made national history and was made into a movie called Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly.

A scene from the actual Scope Trial
PHOTO: Library of Congress

But be aware that the movie is not accurate. For instance, the people in Dayton who talked Scopes into serving as the “test case” for the law did so because they were trying to draw attention to their town. They knew it would mean a lot of business for their hotels and restaurants.

In other words, it was a publicity stunt. And it worked.

In spite of the inaccuracy of the movie, many people today consider the Scopes Trial to have been one of the most important legal cases in American history.

An 1831 map of Rhea County
IMAGE: TN State Library and Archives

Another interesting point about Rhea County: it is one of several counties which has, over time, changed county seats.

The original county seat of Rhea County was Washington (see article on the right). But in the 1880s the Cincinnati Southern Railway bypassed Washington, which is why a new courthouse was built in Dayton in 1890.

Finally, Rhea County contains two of the state’s more beautiful (but lesser known) waterfalls.

One is Piney Falls, shown on the left.

The other is Stinging Fork Falls, shown on the right.

Best not to think about how a place got known as “Stinging Fork Falls.” As you can see, it is quite beautiful!