Stakeholders and others were pleased with the outcome of a National Park Service presentation and vision for the future of the historic Fort Cass Trail of Tears National Historic Trail concept plan.
On Friday, NPS Landscape Architects Cori Kolisko and Steve Burns Chavez unveiled a plan they had worked on all week.
The two landed in Charleston Monday and put their feet on the ground visiting 17 sites where encampments of Cherokee and soldiers once lived.
They said Fort Cass was pristine with research revealing that mapping from 1838 could be overlayed onto modern maps to show the neighborhood is virtually unchanged.
Farmlands have helped preserve much of the historical landscape.
“They would say ‘Thank you for remembering,’” said Faye Callaway tearfully.
Callaway was instrumental in getting Chavez and the park service to recognize the importance of the Cherokee Indian Agency/Fort Cass Charleston Trail of Tears story.
“It is a story that needs to be told. Children need to know where they came from and the history of this city,” she said.
The Trail of Tears Historic Trail is administered with partnerships across the land.
NPS administers the Pony Express, Oregon, Santa Fe, Old Spanish, California and preservation projects along Route 66, as well as several other interpretive trail systems.
The tragedy of the Trail of Tears was a human experience where Cherokee and other American Indian tribes were forced by the government to cede their lands and were forcefully, but peacefully removed to Oklahoma.
Fort Cass was established as the largest emigration depot for the removal of more than 7,000 Cherokee and Creek Indians.
The depot encompassed more than 12 miles of land and had encampments such as Fort Foster and Camp Wool included in its landscape boundaries, according to Chavez.
To bring the Fort Cass/Trail of Tears experience to the future, Chavez and Kolisko travelled the miles from Santa Fe, then walked the grounds of Charleston, hearing the voices of the Cherokee, Creek and the soldiers.
“The site analysis shows an intact landscape with campsites, springs and historic road beds,” Chavez explained Friday to the stakeholders, local government officials and residents who attended the meeting at Charleston United Methodist Church.
A “charette,” which is an intensive and focused effort to develop conceptual plans within compressed, creative, high-energy sessions occurred Tuesday.
Wednesday and Thursday, Chavez and Kolisko worked early into the mornings to map out and put together the conceptual plan presented Friday.
Cameron Fisher, chairman of the Bradley County Greenway Board was excited to hear that part of the Greenway Trail could tie into the plan.
Kolisko said the Greenway Trail portion runs through campsites in the area, and then would continue into the city of Charleston.
“Composites along the trail would provide an experience in a historical sense,” she said.
The Greenway Trail included in the historic trail concept was one of two plans discussed. A broader scale plan and a more concentrated plan, which included much of the interior history of Fort Cass and the military operations.
Fort Cass took over the Indian Agency during the removal process.
The city of Charleston was “platted” after the removal, according to Chavez.
Chavez and Kolisko made many discoveries during their week in Charleston.
After Charleston became a city, streets were named and homes were constructed after Fort Cass was dismantled by the military.
“The concept in Charleston could be known as ‘Voices from the Past,’” Chavez said.
“A walk from the parking area near the Charleston Park, to the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Center would have displays of Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross, and Gen. Winfield Scott as well as others,” Chavez said.
John Ross fought for a peaceful removal for his people. Scott was in charge of the removal and head of operations at Fort Cass. Three other emigration depots are essentially buried in the past, according to Chavez.
Ross’s Landing, now present day Chattanooga, Guntersville, Fort Payne’s landscape in Alabama, has lost its integrity through changing times, resulting in the Fort Cass portion of the trail being deemed as “pristine.”
Lewis Ross was John Ross’ brother. Lewis Ross established commerce in the Indian Agency and continued business after Fort Cass was formed. He was instrumental in procuring supplies for the removal of the Cherokee.
Ross’ property, crucial springs behind the Ross house in TVA’s established Cypress Grove and other properties would be a part of the highlights of the walking or driving tours that would make a visitor experience into the history of the Trail of Tears.
“The town itself is a major part of the removal,” said Chavez.
Proposed cantonments or buildings were also set into a PowerPoint presentation. The placement would be part of an interactive experience.
Another portion along the trail would travel upriver to TVA and private land. A retracement trail along the Hiwassee was landowner receptive, according to Chavez.
Stakeholders and others also heard conceptual plans to make the Heritage Center more visitor friendly and reflect an image of the past.
“We are still learning history and will continue to do so after our Charette conceptual plan is completed,” Chavez said.
Melissa Woody, vice president of the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Darlene Goins of CCHHS were excited about the success of the initial conceptual plans.
After the meeting adjourned Friday, CCHHS members and Woody unveiled signs which will be placed designating Charleston as the Fort Cass Trail of Tears experience along the National Historic Trail system.