- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

DAYTON, Tenn. — Mountains, white water and bluegrass music are the usual reasons people visit southeastern Tennessee, but plans are under way to showcase the region’s diverse religious history as a tourist attraction as well.

There’s the courthouse in Dayton where high school teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution. There’s also a Catholic shrine near South Pittsburg and a Holocaust Museum at Whitwell.

These and about 17 other sites will be linked by a self-guided driving tour across 10 counties expected to be completed in about two years. In the meantime, enterprising visitors can map the route themselves.

The Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, site of the famed “Scopes Monkey Trial,” is already an international tourist attraction and likely will be the most recognized stop on the proposed trail.

Also among the proposed sites are Beth Salem, a historic black church in McMinn County, and the site of the Brainerd Mission in Chattanooga, where Cherokee Indians were converted to Christianity.

Our Lady of the Poor Shrine at New Hope, a replica of a shrine in Belgium where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared starting in January 1933, was dedicated in 1983 on 600 acres in Marion County.

At Whitwell, a German rail car that carried Jewish men, women and children to their deaths has been developed into a memorial, a project involving schoolchildren in the community.

The region also has “beautiful little country churches that speak to the faith of a lot of different generations,” says Carolyn Brackett, a researcher for the National Trust for Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Program.

“As far as we know, this is going to be the only religious history trail of its kind,” says Melissa Alley, vice president for the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

Most religious tourist sites focus on a single group, such as the Shaker Village in Kentucky or the Amish community in Lancaster, Pa. The Tennessee trail would be different.

“I have not come across a heritage trail that is specifically devoted to the diverse religious heritage of an area,” says Miss Brackett, who conducted a study for the Southeast Tennessee Development District that found potential interest among tourists for the proposed trail. She notes that cultural heritage travel is a growing market.

Kenn DeShane, an associate professor of English and folklore at Middle Tennessee State University, will help develop the trail. “I think it will be a great way to draw people to the area,” Mr. DeShane says.

Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association Director Susan Goldblatt predicted that developing the trail would likely take about two years.

“All the history is here, but it is not developed to the point that it is accessible,” Miss Goldblatt says. “We want to interpret it to where it tells the story.”

Cindy Bruce, executive director of Chattanooga Hotel and Lodging Association, says the planned trail fits nicely with the region’s scenic beauty and family attractions and could “help us entice more conventions.”

Chattanooga already attracts many religious and church conventions.

Miss Bruce says the region’s religious heritage is “something that we have known is here, and we have used it. I think we are just beginning to see it gel in a cohesive effort.”

Sites show state’s diversity from Scopes to Holocaust

The proposed Religious Heritage Trail in southeastern Tennessee won’t be complete for about two years. Visit www.nationaltrust.org/heritage?tourism/index.html for details.

The Rhea County Courthouse, 1475 Market St. in downtown Dayton, is a National Historic Landmark. The “Scopes monkey trial” was held on the second floor, which contains the original judge’s bench, four tables, railing, jury chairs and spectator seats. The museum downstairs is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For details, call 423/775-7801 or visit www.rheacounty.com/attractions.html.

The Whitwell Holocaust exhibit has a German rail car used by the Nazis to transport Jews. Whitwell Middle School, 1130 Main St., Whitwell. Open during school hours; admission free. Phone 423/658-5635.

Our Lady of the Poor Catholic Shrine is in New Hope. Take Highway 156 over the bridge from South Pittsburg, then follow the shrine signs. Phone 423/837-7068. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Beth Salem is a historic black church and cemetery. From Interstate 75, take Exit 49 at Athens; follow Tennessee 30 east through Athens toward Etowah.

About five miles out of Athens, turn right onto County Road 602. The church is a quarter-mile on the left. Phone 423/780-2836. Call ahead to arrange tours.

Brainerd Mission is the site where Cherokee Indians were converted to Christianity. A marker is at 5600 Brainerd Road, Chattanooga.

The Beauty of Holiness Exhibit tells the story of the Holiness movement, back to John Wesley, and the early history of the Church of God. Pentecostal Research Center, 260 11th St., Cleveland, Tenn., on the Lee University Campus. Phone 423/614-8576. Hours are 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and until 8 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For help in planning a trip to Tennessee, visit www.tnvacation.com or call 615/741-2159.

For more information on southeastern Tennessee, visit www.southeasttennessee.com or [email protected].

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