Charleston is emerging as one of the most historic areas in the state, according to information from the Charleston-Calhoun Hiwassee Historical Society.
“In the early 1800s, the present day town of Charleston was known as Walker’s Ferry. John Walker, a part-Cherokee grandson of Nancy Ward, lived in and operated a ferry across the river in the present day town of Calhoun. In 1819 the Cherokee Indians relinquished their lands north of the Hiwassee River to the United States government. Land South of the Hiwassee River and West to the Tennessee River became known as the Ocoee District,” according to the historical society.
“The Cherokee Indian Agency was moved to the area at this time. The present day area of Charleston was still Indian territory and passports were required of white settlers to enter this Indian Nation. Lewis Ross, treasurer of the Cherokee Nation and brother of Cherokee Chief John Ross, was a notable merchant in the town at this time.”
Ross owned a section of 640 acres (one square-mile) which basically encompassed the entire city of Charleston at present.
The Lewis Ross house, possibly one of the oldest continually inhabited homes in Bradley County, is now privately owned and undergoing a restoration and historic preservation project by the property owners. The Bradley County Greenway Project will extend through Charleston and down Market Street (Historic Highway 11 or the Concrete Highway) in future plans.
Col. Return Jonathan Meigs, a Revolutionary soldier, was the first Indian agent. After his death in 1824, Meigs was followed by former Governor Joseph McMinn. The Indian Agency was often referred to as the gateway to the Indian country.
During the Indian Removal of 1838, known as “The Trail of Tears,” Charleston was the site of Ross’ land which eventually became Fort Cass, an encampment that detained thousands of Cherokees awaiting their transport to Oklahoma.
Of course after the infamous Trail of Tears in the 1830s came the Civil War. Fort Cass became modern day Charleston where the principle Indian Agency was located.
At present, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is ongoing and historic Charleston is playing a large role in the commemoration of the five year plan which encompasses southern and northern states.
CCHHS is currently working to secure funding for a heritage center which will be used as a museum and provide Trail of Tears and Civil War history of the area to visitors.
Earlier this year, a number of National Parks Service representatives met with members of CCHHS and Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau vice-president Melissa Woody, to discuss the proposed heritage center and how they could help with tourism and development.
Incidentally, the proposed heritage center borders the Concrete Highway (Market Street).
There have been a number of other community events in downtown Charleston this past year including the reunion of Charleston School and Heritage Days as well as a full Civil War reenactment of the bridge burning.
Officials are also hoping to hold an annual Cowpea Festival in the future.
In late fall, Cleveland, Bradley County and Charleston were placed on the Tanasi Trail project.
“The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development has been developing 16 driving trails in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Several of these trails have been launched such as the ‘Sunnyside’ in Northeast Tennessee, ‘The Jack’ that goes through Lynchburg and ‘Top Secret,’ which includes Oak Ridge,” Woody said.
“Each trail comes out of a large Tennessee destination like Nashville, Knoxville or Chattanooga. We are on the ‘Tanasi Trail,’ named for the Cherokee word that eventually became our state name. It is a driving trail through six counties — Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Monroe and Meigs. The brochure will include interesting places to see and experience, hometown dining, stories of the area and unique lodging,” Woody explained.
“It’s the ‘back-road’ experience,” she added.