|There were two Dayton,
Tennessees in 1925. There was the prosperous and
quiet town in the Cumberland Mountains that was well-known to its 1,800
inhabitants. Then there was, for about two hot weeks in July, the
whose streets were transformed into a fair of lemonade and hotdog
banners and monkey pennants, caged apes, hawkers of religious tracts
biology texts, Holy Rollers and evangelists, and hundreds of members of
Dayton was a town of beautiful homes, two banks, a hosiery
factory, and a blast furnace of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company.
most notable structure on a main street of brick and wooden buildings
Model T Fords was the Hotel Aqua. Farmers in the surrounding fields of
Rhea County grew soybeans, wheat, tobacco, and strawberries.
The writer, H. L. Mencken, found Dayton to be a surprisingly pleasant
He described a town "full of charm and even some beauty." Homes were
by pretty gardens, with green lawns and stately trees. Mencken noted
Dayton's stores were well- stocked and had a "metropolitan air,
the drug, book, magazine, sporting goods, and soda-water emporium of
Dayton was, however, very much a Christian community, as attested to by
its nine churches. Mencken came to find the town suffocatingly moral.
complained that the town had no bootleggers, no gambling, no place to
and that "no fancy women" had been seen in Dayton "since the McKinley
The "relatively wicked," according to Mencken, "when they would indulge
themselves, go to Robinson's drug store and debate theology." All this
strictly Christian behavior left Mencken longing for "a merry laugh, a
burst of happy music, the gurgle of a decent jug."
Daytonians viewed the Scopes trial as an opportunity to put their town
on the map. In preparation for the trial and the arriving hordes,
businessmen printed a pamphlet "Why Dayton - Of All Places?,"
with pictures of the town's places of commerce. Townspeople apparently
believed that settlers would be attracted to Dayton, in Mencken's
"as to some refuge from the atheism of the great urban Sodom and
Despite their religiosity and economic motivation for the trial, the
found the locals a generally friendly lot. Mrs. Darrow observed that
attitude of the townspeople toward us was especially kindly despite the
differences of our beliefs."
The Scopes trial took place in the Rhea County Courthouse, a large
building with a belfry, surrounded by a large yard and trees. The
yard was filled with vendors, banners, and preachers. As the trial
the town "was literally drunk on religious excitement." There was
in the courthouse for 700, but 300 more standees crammed in to watch
most historic event.