The beginning of the Cumberland Trail’s route to Laurel Falls and Snow Falls runs along Richland Creek. Richland Creek has deep pools which are popular for swimming.
Up from that stream, on the other side of the trail, you can find the ruins of coke ovens from the days of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company. In 1901 an explosion in the mines nearby killed 29 miners. The Richland mines closed in 1910.
The company that operated the mines, however, was still in business, continuing mining and iron operations in the region. After several other failings, including a manager committing suicide and the company going bankrupt, things looked desperate.
So, in 1925, company president George Washington Rappaleyea came up with a new strategy: Try a Dayton teacher for teaching evolution and get the press to come along for the trial of the century. This was the famous Scopes Trial, often called the Monkey Trial in history books. Rappalyea possibly hoped this trial would show the world how swell a town Dayton was. I swear, I am not making this up.
To be fair, the ACLU had already announced that they would support anyone who had violated Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution, so it wasn’t Rappalyea’s idea entirely. He just thought it would be good for his business.
He was hanging out with a few other town notables at a local drugstore when he first proposed his plan. Someone (I’m not clear on who it was) found the local biology teacher John Scopes out playing tennis and said something along the lines of “How’dya like to be a defendant?” Scopes was fine with the idea. Maybe it was because he wanted to go down in history as someone who supported scientific progress. Possibly he just wanted to do the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company a favor.
The Cumberland Coal and Iron Company closed its smelting and coal operations two years later. Apparently, legal, theological, and scientific debates are not the best way to revive a struggling mining business.
If you want more information about the Scopes trial, try this page.
For the full story of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company’s role in the Scopes Trial, I’d recommend going to the Rhea County Courthouse. They’ve got a full display on it in their basement, along with the lawyers’ hats.