He explained there was a standing Red Clay committee in the Chamber of Commerce when he first arrived to Cleveland.
Rowland added, “And nobody knew what it was about.”
Former Mayor and state Rep. Col. James F. Corn heard Rowland was named as the committee’ chairman. He invited both Rowland and his wife, Sandra, to his home. Corn then told the couple about the Cherokee Red Clay Association.
Rowland was soon named president of the association, with Sandra serving as vice president.
It quickly became evident there was a disparity between good intentions and knowledge of local history.
The mayor said, “Here I was president of the association, and the only thing I knew about Red Clay was red clay.”
A brewing company eventually expressed an interest in buying Red Clay for its natural spring.
Corn determined too much history would be lost through the construction of a brewery. He informed Rowland he would purchase the property and save it for the state.
Tennessee did not initially recognize the significance of the park. Rowland, Corn and others, like former state Sen. Ben Longley, fought for the historic value angle. They explained the park was the last Cherokee capital prior to the Trail of Tears.
Corn sold the 263 acres of land when Tennessee decided to make Red Clay a state park.
The next battle was keeping the park in the public eye.
Those involved decided the best course of action was to have a groundbreaking ceremony, in 1979.
One hitch remained in the party’s plans for breaking ground for the park.
“There was a song that had to be performed. We had to very quickly get a musician,” Rowland said. “Well, there was one in the Bradley County jail.”
The inmate reportedly played guitar and was a pretty good singer.
“And so the sheriff at the time said, ‘We can bring him down,’ and someone said, ‘I don’t think we want a prisoner loose with the governor out there,’” Rowland recalled. “So to the best of my knowledge, this prisoner was donned with a deputy’s uniform.”
The mayor went on to discuss visits from the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
He also detailed how Corn took care of locals who swam in the spring, prior to a ranger being hired.
“Col. Corn did not want anyone swimming or scuba diving in the hole, so he paid a Ms. Gray to keep them out and she did,” Rowland said. “She would run at them with a broom, a mop, or whatever and tell them to leave the park. She did an excellent job.”
Gary Lawson was hired soon after as the first park ranger.
The James F. Corn Museum was built and filled with artifacts kept in the old Merchant’s Bank.
Rowland said everything was going good.
“We had a ceremony and a torch run that both the [Cherokee Nation] and Eastern Band brought in to light it up,” Rowland said. “So they lighted the Eternal Flame, and it went out the next day.”
Rowland added, “Finally, the gas line was cleaned out and it is burning to this day.”
Red Clay State Historic Park is seen today as a certified interpretive site on the Trail of Tears.