Dayton Began As Smith’s Crossroads

Dayton Began As Smith’s Crossroads

Citizen’s revolt when Railroad names new station “Sequatchie”

The origin of Dayton goes back to the time of when it was known as Smith’s Crossroads, a country village named for William Smith. He was a New England school master turned merchant, who emigrated around 1812 from Knoxville to the Washington Community which was the newly established seat of Rhea County. Washington which is known today as Old Washington is located about six miles east of the present-day site of Dayton.

In 1820, Smith associated with his brother-in-law James Cozby, purchased 60 acres of land from Isaac Benson for which Smith’s Crossroads was founded. They opened a store where the valley road which ran from Knoxville to Ross Landing crossed the road that led from the Cherokee Country by way of Hiawassee Garrison and crossed Walden’s Ridge to the Cumberland Mountains.

With the increased travel, Smith’s Crossroads soon became an important stopping place. The Cherokees, on their “Trail of Tears” westward passed through the new settlement in fall of 1838.

During the early part of the Civil War, a stockade/prison camp was maintained by the Confederate forces near the present-day site of Robinson Mfg. Company. Later when Rhea County was occupied by the Union forces, the settlement was used as a headquarters.

By 1875, Smith’s Crossroads boasted of two general stores, one blacksmith’s shop, one tan yard and harness establishment, and the Smith’s Crossroads post office.

With the completion of the railroad through the valley by 1880, the railroad decides to name the new station “Sequatchie” and they erected a large sign at the deport station bearing the name. The citizens of town objected to the new name and requested the railroad to change it, their efforts failed.

Soon after citizens wrecked and burned the sign. The town’s people gathered with the purpose of selecting a new name for the town that everyone could agree on. “Dayton” was selected to be the new name reportedly on the suggestion of the Postmaster N.D. Reed.

It was the establishment of the Dayton Coal & Iron Company by a British company that lead the little village of Dayton to boom into a thriving town of 3,000 in a short period of three years in the mid 1880’s. The town continued to thrive until 1913. That is when the overseas company failed, and the furnaces were closed. Following the close of the company, there was a period of decline with a static era to follow.

Dayton is steeped in the history of the world-renown Scopes Evolution Trial in which William Jennings Bryan (the Silver-Tongued Orator) and Clarence Darrow (the Great Defender) engaged in the legal battle in 1925. The controversy was whether the Theory of Evolution could be taught in Tennessee schools. The Rhea County Courthouse has been restored to its 1925 appearance and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In the basement of the courthouse is a Scopes Museum open to the public.

The people of the City of Dayton, merchants as well as private citizens and government leaders, continue to strive for the growth and development that put life into the City of Dayton.

Dayton Smith Crossroads
This marker located in the parking lot of Robinson Mfg Company marks the spot of Smith’s Crossroads.

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Published byDean

Born and raised in Dayton Tennessee, I have served in various public service positions in the past. I have a great interest in the History of our town. This site is a way for me to share some of the great history of the area.

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