The proposed heritage center is part of an overall heritage development plan to recognize the significant history on the banks of the Hiwassee River.
“It is an honor for the Johnson family to recognize and support our project in memory of a great citizen of our community,” said Faye Callaway, president of the CCH Historical Society.
The property the CCH Historical Society hopes to purchase is the vacant bank branch on U.S. Highway 11 owned by and formerly housing Regions Bank.
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 they loved.
“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 our future generations to know the history of their hometown. The more they know, the more they can do to make this world a better place.”
According to a letter from Janice Wilson, daughter of George R. Johnson and executive director of the George R. Johnson Family Foundation, the organization’s mission is “to support projects in the locations where our family businesses, Hardee’s restaurants, are located.”
Additionally Johnson and his family have longtime ties to the Calhoun and Charleston communities — a fact organizers say makes this support even more meaningful.
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 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 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 of the Convention & Visitors Bureau of 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.
Wright Brothers Construction was the first to support the project, with a donation of $20,000. Olin Corporation has also contributed to the project, presenting a check for $30,000 at the recent groundbreaking for its expansion. Several other donations have been committed as well as land, in-kind labor and research.
Anyone wishing to be part of the project or to hear more about it should call Faye Callaway at 423-336-5694 or Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587, or email email@example.com.