Since its introduction more than 10 years ago, the vision of the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway has been to stretch from Cleveland to Charleston, ending at the Hiwassee River. Charleston has an ambitious heritage development project which proposes a heritage center, river park and an interpretive Greenway connecting the two.
The Greenway would wind through the city of Charleston past historical places relating to the Cherokee Nation as well as the Civil War, the filming of “Wild River” and other significant sites and stories. Further interpretation will include a closer look at wildlife, wetlands, native plants and the center of all things past and present in Charleston and the Hiwassee River. The Greenway will be a combination of sidewalks, paved ways, boardwalks and soft trails.
Almost 200 years ago, the land around the Hiwassee River was a major gateway to the Cherokee Nation. The south side of the Hiwassee, present-day Charleston, was once the location of the federal Cherokee Indian Agency (1820-1833) providing protection for the Cherokee people.
In fall 1838, the agency area was the scene of one of the greatest American tragedies in history, the forced removal of the Cherokee from their eastern homeland on what is now known as the Trail of Tears. Federal troops set up Fort Cass, the military headquarters for the removal efforts. Commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott, Fort Cass was a collection of encampments covering a 48 square-mile area which included present-day Charleston and stretched toward Cleveland. Native Americans, mostly Cherokee, were held at Fort Cass until leaving in detachments for designated areas in the west.
Following the construction of the railroad, the Civil War found Charleston to be a pivotal crossing over the Hiwassee River. A dramatic bridge burning, full-fledged battle and two overnight stays by Union General William T. Sherman were highlights of the time.
From these early significant pieces of American history to a cultural revolution with TVA river damming, the filming of “Wild River” and Tennessee’s first African-American mayor and police chief, Charleston is more than meets the eye.
When plans to interpret the history of Charleston through an interpretive Greenway reached the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway board, great interest in partnering was expressed. The Charleston-Calhoun Hiwassee Historical Society and the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau had been working with the city of Charleston on ideas for the project. The Greenway board was looking for a route to the Hiwassee River and liked the deeper purpose of the Charleston project.
Last year the Greenway board voted to allocate funds from a long-range planning grant to Charleston’s vision for a Greenway. A contract was let with McBride-Dale planning firm for a conceptual plan which is being finalized. This plan is based on research conducted by the Tennessee Center for Historic Preservation and input from a committee of residents and elected officials in Charleston. The plan will be essential in applying for grants and in fundraising.
This great partnership combines historic preservation, heritage development and recreation to further a project that will impact the whole community.
Walking in the footsteps of those who came before us will help us all to better understand those who came before us as well as our community’s place in history.