Representatives from the city of Charleston, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation, the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of the Cherokee, Trail of Tears Association and the Cherokee National Forest were among participating members of the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society and other stakeholders.
A “charette” is an “intensive, focused effort to develop conceptual plans within compressed, high-energy sessions and involves production of plans and concepts based on the input of all participating interests,” according to Steve Burns Chavez, NPS landscape architect.
After introductions were made and the purpose of the charette explained, Chavez and Cori Kolisko began the program by reflecting on the history of the venture leading to the charette.
Years of research have led to this point.
“So much more of this history is to be revealed,” Chavez stated regarding the magnitude the Indian Agency, Fort Cass and what the area of present-day Charleston held in connection to the Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears in years preceding 1838.
“Unlike Ross’s Landing (now present-day Chattanooga) or Guntersville, Ala., much of the integrity of the Fort Cass area has not been disturbed,” Chavez explained.
On Monday, Darlene Goins of CCHHS, Melissa Woody, vice president of the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce and Shirley Lawrence of the Trail of Tears Association traveled areas of Charleston and explored sites prominent to many Cherokee, who were held in encampments prior to the Removal Act.
They explored the evolution of the Cherokee Indian Agency, then Fort Cass and its surroundings including ridges, streams, long-established farmlands, trails and other elements.
“We went out and found some interesting things,” said Kolisko.
“It was very exciting,” she added.
Maps provided through research by NPS, coupled with overlays of present-day observations were “geo-corrected.”
The maps, once married, revealed that not much of the landscape has changed since the 19th century Native American removal in the fall of 1838.
Kolisko and Chavez said the historic Fort Cass area remains “pristine.”
Corresponding with current views of the landscape, the maps revealed historic Fort Cass was the U.S. government’s military operational headquarters and encampments and forts were set up in various places in the area.
The Fort Cass Emigration Depot was the largest, with more than 7,000 American Indians, mostly Cherokee.
“It’s amazing that you can take a map from 1838, and still go around the neighborhood,” Chavez said.
“Roads, ridges, springs and other natural features still exist,” he added.
The goal is to “take those pages from the history books and make it tangible,” Chavez said.
Chavez said due to the pristine nature of the area, it was suggested the city and CCHHS pursue a “Cultural Land” nomination.
For two days, Chavez and Kolisko have been busy putting the input from stakeholders together, developing proposed plans for visitors and those who live in the surrounding areas to “have a tangible visitor’s experience.”
On Friday at 1 p.m., stakeholders will meet at Charleston United Methodist Church in Charleston to see proposed layouts from the charette concepts.