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Rhea County, Tennessee facts for kids

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Rhea County
The Rhea County Courthouse, site of the Scopes Trial
Map of Tennessee highlighting Rhea County
Location within the U.S. state of Tennessee
Map of the United States highlighting Tennessee
Tennessee's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Tennessee
Founded 1807
Named for John Rhea
Seat Dayton
Largest city Dayton
 • Total 336 sq mi (870 km2)
 • Land 315 sq mi (820 km2)
 • Water 21 sq mi (50 km2)  6.3%%
 • Total 32,870 Increase
 • Density 101/sq mi (39/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 4th

Rhea County (pronounced "ray") is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2010 census, the population was 31,809. Its county seat is Dayton. Rhea County comprises the Dayton, TN Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton, TN-GA-AL Combined Statistical Area.


Rhea County is named for Tennessee politician and Revolutionary War veteran John Rhea.

A portion of the Trail of Tears ran through the county as part of the United States government's removal of the Cherokee in the 1830s.

During the American Civil War, Rhea County was one of the few counties in East Tennessee that was heavily sympathetic to the cause of the Confederate States of America. It was the only East Tennessee county that did not send a delegate to the pro-Union East Tennessee Convention in 1861. The county voted in favor of Tennessee's June 1861 Ordinance of Secession, 360 votes to 202. Rhea raised seven companies for the Confederate Army, compared to just one company for the Union.

Rhea had the only female cavalry company on either side during the Civil War. It was made up of young women in their teens and twenties from Rhea County and was formed in 1862. The girls named their unit the Rhea County Spartans. Until 1863, the Spartans simply visited loved ones in the military and delivered the equivalent of modern-day care packages. After Union troops entered Rhea in 1863, the Spartans may have engaged in some spying for Confederate forces. The members of the Spartans were arrested in April 1865 under orders of a Rhea County Unionist and were forced to march to the Tennessee River. From there they were transported to Chattanooga aboard the USS Chattanooga. Once in Chattanooga, Union officers realized the women were not a threat and ordered them released and returned to Rhea County. They first were required to take the oath of allegiance to the United States government. The Spartans were not an officially recognized unit of the Confederate Army.

In 1890, the county seat was moved from the Washington community to its present location in Dayton. This was a result of several causes such as the completion of the Cincinnati-Chattanooga Railroad in Smith's Crossroads, the rapid growth of Chattanooga, the detrimental affects of the American Civil War, and the emigration of its prominent citizens.

The Scopes Trial, which resulted from the teaching of evolution being banned in Tennessee public schools under the Butler Act, took place in Rhea County in 1925. The trial was one of the first to be referred to as the "Trial of the century". William Jennings Bryan played a role as prosecutor in trial, and he died in Dayton shortly after the trial ended. A statue of Bryan was recently erected on the grounds of the Rhea County Courthouse. In 1954, the laws were changed to allow teaching of evolution alongside Bible studies in school.

On March 16, 2004, Rhea County commissioner J.C. Fugate prompted a vote on a ban on homosexuals in Tennessee, allowing the county to charge them with "crimes against nature." The measure passed 8-0. Several of the commissioners who voted for the resolution chose not to run for reelection or were voted out of office. The resolution was withdrawn on March 18. In protest, a "Gay Day in Rhea" was held on May 8, 2004 with about 400 participants.


The cooling towers of Watts Bar Nuclear Generating Station, with the Tennessee River in the foreground

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 336 square miles (870 km2), of which 315 square miles (820 km2) is land and 21 square miles (54 km2) (6.3%) is water.

Walden Ridge, part of the Cumberland Plateau, provides Rhea County's border with Bledsoe County to the west. The Tennessee River forms Rhea's border with Meigs County to the east. Whites Creek, a tributary of the Tennessee River, forms Rhea's border with Roane County to the north. Watts Bar Dam straddles the Tennessee River near Spring City. The section of the river upstream from the dam is part of Watts Bar Lake, and the section downstream is part of Chickamauga Lake. A nuclear power plant, Watts Bar Nuclear Generating Station, is located near Watts Bar Dam.

The major north-south road in Rhea County is U.S. Route 27. Major east-west roads include State Route 30, which intersects US-27 in Dayton, and State Route 68, which connects Spring City with Madisonville and Crossville.

Adjacent counties

State protected areas

  • Chickamauga Wildlife Management Area (part)
  • Cumberland Trail (part)
  • Hiwassee Refuge (part)
  • Laurel-Snow State Natural Area
  • Piney Falls State Natural Area
  • Stringing Fork Falls State Natural Area
  • Yuchi Refuge


Historical population
Census Pop.
1810 2,504
1820 4,215 68.3%
1830 8,186 94.2%
1840 3,985 −51.3%
1850 4,415 10.8%
1860 4,991 13.0%
1870 5,538 11.0%
1880 7,073 27.7%
1890 12,647 78.8%
1900 14,318 13.2%
1910 15,410 7.6%
1920 13,812 −10.4%
1930 13,871 0.4%
1940 16,353 17.9%
1950 16,041 −1.9%
1960 15,863 −1.1%
1970 17,202 8.4%
1980 24,235 40.9%
1990 24,344 0.4%
2000 28,400 16.7%
2010 31,809 12.0%
2020 32,870 3.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2014
USA Rhea County, Tennessee.csv age pyramid
Age pyramid Rhea County

2020 census

Rhea County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 28,641 87.13%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 598 1.82%
Native American 100 0.3%
Asian 195 0.59%
Pacific Islander 6 0.02%
Other/Mixed 1,370 4.17%
Hispanic or Latino 1,960 5.96%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 32,870 people, 12,177 households, and 8,235 families residing in the county.


View of Dayton from Cedar Glen Lane



Unincorporated communities

Former community


The county-administered public school system serves most Rhea County students. The system operates three elementary schools, two middle schools, two K-8 schools, one high school, and one alternative school. The K-8 school, Rhea Central Elementary, is currently the largest K-8 school in the state of Tennessee in terms of number of students.

The City of Dayton operates a K-8 school that serves the children who live within the city limits. All public school students in the county, however, attend Rhea County High School, in Evensville, upon leaving the eighth grade, as the city does not have a high school. The high school has an enrollment of approximately 1,500 students.

Rhea County Academy is a private, not-for-profit K4-12 school located in Dayton. The school was started in 2003 and currently enrolls approximately 150 students.

Bryan College, a four-year Christian liberal arts college, has its campus in Dayton. The college is named for William Jennings Bryan. Chattanooga State Community College also has a small satellite campus in Dayton. Additionally, Oxford Graduate School, an international graduate level Christian college serving working adults has its campus in Dayton.

Notable people

  • Archie Butler (actor), an actor, stunt man, and crewman in numerous films and television shows, was born here on September 27, 1911.
  • Hargus "Pig" Robbins (musician), an American session keyboard and piano player was born here on January 18, 1938.
  • Arnim LeRoy Fox, better known as Curly Fox, was an American old-time and country fiddler, singer, and country musician that was born here on November 9, 1910.
  • John Randolph Neal Jr. was an American attorney, law professor, politician, and activist who was born here on September 17, 1876.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Rhea para niños

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