The proposed heritage center is part of an overall development plan to recognize the significant history on the banks of the Hiwassee River.
The heritage plan also includes a river park at the Hiwassee River and an interpretive greenway connecting the park with the heritage center.
Organizers say the concept of the project is to educate visitors and residents about the significant history of the area by providing an opportunity to walk where the Cherokee people walked and experience the land and water that they loved so much.
“We are so happy and appreciative of the confidence that Wright Brothers Construction has placed in our historical society by supporting this project,” said Faye Callaway, president of the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society.
“Our goal is to develop a quality heritage project that will be an asset to Charleston as well as honor the Cherokee people who loved this area. We want to be sure that our future generations know the history of their own hometown. The more they know, the more they can do to make this world a better place.”
Teresa Wright Horne of Wright Brothers Construction said she hoped their support would encourage others to get involved in this important project.
She said she is glad her family business is located in Charleston and is looking forward to seeing the development make a positive difference in the community.
The overall three-part plan is expected to be complete in about five years, but once the heritage center is purchased and renovated, visitors and residents can begin using it immediately. The remainder of the plan will be completed in phases.
The property the CCH Historical Society hopes to purchase is the vacant bank branch on U.S. Highway 11, which is owned by and formerly housed Regions Bank.
The heritage center as well as interpretive features along the greenway and at the river park will tell the story of the area known as present-day Charleston being a major gateway to the Cherokee Nation.
The federal Indian Agency was located in Charleston and provided protection to the Cherokee, who lived, farmed, traded and worshipped in this area.
Ultimately in 1838, present-day Charleston became known as Fort Cass, the federal headquarters for the entire Trail of Tears operation, removing the Cherokee from their eastern homelands and forcing them to designated lands in the west.
“This is a sad story of tragic proportions, but it is a story that does not need to be lost. This is a significant piece of American history that needs to be preserved and we can do that in a respectful way focusing on education and accuracy,” said Melissa Woody, vice president for Convention & Bureau for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
“We have some amazing support for this project and we welcome more.”
Woody is working with the CCH Historical Society to raise funds for the project.
“The project involves many partners and we have been fortunate to have positive responses from so many individuals and organizations,” Callaway said.
Most of the property proposed for the interpretive greenway is on TVA or city of Charleston property. The city of Charleston has committed to help with the center’s utility costs in exchange for meeting space.
“We have worked with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee’s Tribal Preservation Office on interpretation and the overall plan.” Woody explained.
“Cleveland State and Lee University are going to offer credit to students who staff the center. Caldwell Paving has agreed to build the greenway because owner Jonathan Cantrell loves the Charleston community. The Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University has conducted extensive research and is providing interpretive panels for the heritage center.
“The response has been encouraging. This is probably the most important and significant local preservation project of this generation.”
Olin Corp. has also contributed to the project, presenting a check for $30,000 at the recent ground breaking for their expansion.
Olin officials noted the progress and preservation were both being featured in the Charleston area that day.
Anyone wishing to be part of the project or to hear more about it, should contact Faye Callaway at 423-336-5694 or Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.