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Dayton, Tennessee
Rhea County Courthouse, 2006
Rhea County Courthouse, 2006
Location of Dayton, Tennessee
Location of Dayton, Tennessee
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Rhea
Settled ca. 1820
Incorporated 1903
Named for Dayton, Ohio
 • Total 6.4 sq mi (16.5 km2)
 • Land 6.1 sq mi (15.9 km2)
 • Water 0.2 sq mi (0.6 km2)
696 ft (212 m)
 • Total 7,191
 • Density 1,124/sq mi (435.8/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code 423
FIPS code 47-19700
GNIS feature ID 1306293

Dayton is a city and county seat in Rhea County, Tennessee, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 7,191. The Dayton Urban Cluster, which includes developed areas adjacent to the city and extends south to Graysville, had 10,174 people in 2010.

Dayton was the site of the Scopes Trial in 1925 dealing with the creation–evolution controversy.


Dayton center
Downtown Dayton, 1925

The community was originally settled circa 1820 as Smith's Crossroads. In 1877, the town was renamed Dayton, after Dayton, Ohio. The town was incorporated in 1903. Early industry included manufacture of pig iron.

Scopes trial

In 1925, the famous Scopes Trial was held in Dayton and, for a period of time, filled the town with hucksters of every description and journalists from around the world. The participants included William Jennings Bryan in the role of prosecutor and Clarence Darrow as the principal defense counsel. The trial was over the issue of whether evolution should be taught in public schools. John T. Scopes, the defendant in the trial, was a local science teacher who was recruited by George Rappleyea to begin to teach evolution in his science class, despite it being against Tennessee law at that time. Rappleyea believed that this conflict would create an enormous amount of publicity for the town, and he was absolutely right. The town bustled with activity as people began to flock from near and far to hear the verdict on this controversial issue.

Although this trial is often represented as being pivotal in the movement to allow evolution to be taught in American schools, it actually marked the beginning of a major decline in the teaching of evolution which did not start to recover until the early 1960s. Likewise, the Butler Act, which Scopes was supposed to have violated—though it was never invoked again—remained on the books until 1967, when it was repealed by the Tennessee Legislature.

H. L. Mencken famously covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun and recruited Clarence Darrow to lead the defense team.

Immediately after the trial, Bryan continued to edit and deliver speeches, traveling hundreds of miles that week. On July 26, 1925, he drove from Chattanooga to Dayton to attend a church service, ate a meal, and died (the result of diabetes and fatigue) in his sleep that afternoon—just five days after the Scopes trial ended.


Dayton is located at 35°30′N 85°1′W (35.493, -85.013). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.4 square miles (17 km2), of which 6.1 square miles (16 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) (3.62%) is water.

Dayton has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons; hot and humid in the summer, warm and mild in spring and fall, and cool in winter with some snow.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 200
1890 2,719 1,259.5%
1900 2,004 −26.3%
1910 1,991 −0.6%
1920 1,701 −14.6%
1930 2,006 17.9%
1940 1,870 −6.8%
1950 3,191 70.6%
1960 3,500 9.7%
1970 4,361 24.6%
1980 5,233 20.0%
1990 5,671 8.4%
2000 6,180 9.0%
2010 7,191 16.4%
Est. 2015 7,384 2.7%

As of the census of 2000, there were 6,180 people, 2,323 households, and 1,558 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,007.9 people per square mile (389.3/km2). There were 2,492 housing units at an average density of 406.4 per square mile (157.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.70% White, 5.26% African American, 0.23% Native American, 0.73% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.75% from other races, and 1.31% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.12% of the population.

There were 2,323 households out of which 31.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.7% were married couples living together, 15.3% had a female householder with no male present, and 32.9% were non-families. 29.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 2.95.

In the city, the age distribution of the population shows 23.5% under the age of 18, 16.0% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 14.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 86.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $26,542, and the median income for a family was $33,149. Males had a median income of $30,521 versus $22,144 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,946. About 13.4% of families and 16.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.0% of those under age 18 and 16.6% of those age 65 or over.

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