Dayton, TN–Not such a bad town

Cathy Newman wrote a nice article in 2001 about our hometown entitled ZipUSA: 37321.  That month will always be remembered for the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington.  The article, quoted in part below, serves as a reminder that America–warts-‘n-all, is a nation worth protecting. 

I don’t know how long the Lord will have us in Dayton, TN, but I am thankful that our children have been able to experience small town USA for past six years. 

Cathy Newman wrote,

It was Thursday night in Dayton, Tennessee, and from the McDonald’s on Highway 27 you could hear the sound of gospel music floating high above the Golden Arches. It was fast food for the soul—a mix of Big Macs and hymns like “Hillbilly Heaven” and “Have a Little Talk With Jesus.” Among the gathered was Marcella Harris, who used to be a honky-tonk singer but changed her tune and was saved. And Henry Harris (no relation), who answered the call 25 years ago when he was running a bulldozer in a gravel pit and heard the voice of the Lord in the sound of the machine’s gears.

The McDonald’s gospel sing has been going for two years and is so popular that, word has it, Wendy’s is about to start one too. “There’s also one at the Hardee’s in Soddy-Daisy,” a town 20 minutes down the road, Anna Kyle informed me. A tiny woman with a mass of golden curls, Kyle acts as unofficial hostess for the big sing. “Hardee’s holds theirs the same night as ours,” she added. She did not look pleased.

In Dayton you can spend practically every night worshiping: the Wednesday night prayer meeting, the gospel sing on Thursday, a Friday night “Jesus Jam” (Jesus is an “awesome dude,” one teen explained), and a performance by the Dayton Christian Ballet on Saturday.

To the question “Why are folks in Dayton so passionately religious?” Daytonians would answer: “Why is everyone else not?” There are places to live, and there are communities. Dayton is a community. It’s a town where generosity is a given, whether in the form of a casserole or a grant for a local college, a place where kids grow up without the threat of drive-by shootings. It is founded on the rock-hard conviction that the world—not to mention Dayton, Tennessee—runs by the grace of God.

This is Bible Belt country. The defining question is not “What do you do?” but “What church do you belong to?” Dayton is the county seat of Rhea (pronounced ray) County, where there are some 130 churches for 28,000 people, from small rural wood frames to the mainstream big brick First Baptist downtown.

There’s a lot to give thanks for. First, the setting. Dayton snuggles in the Tennessee River Valley between the Smoky Mountains and the long slow roll of the Cumberland Plateau. Then the salt-of-the-earth people—about 6,000 of them—who work and pray hard. There’s a healthy economy, based on manufacturing plants like La-Z-Boy, which assembles 3,000 recliners a day, and a near-record low unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. Last, but far from least, is the Rhea County High School football team. To bear witness to a victory of the Golden Eagles is the closest thing to heaven on earth.

Here’s the link to the complete National Geographic article (September 2001):

The picture at the top of this entry is the famous Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, site of the 1925 Scopes Trial.  The picture below is a view of the Administration Building at Bryan College.


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