Our County: Hiwassee River Heritage Center plays vital role
by D. Gary Davis
Jun 18, 2013 | 482 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Friday, May 17, a large crowd gathered in Charleston to celebrate the opening of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center. This ambitious project is located in a former branch bank building which was purchased by the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society.

With support from the community and generous gifts from about 60 industries, individuals and foundations, Phase 1 of the center opened as part of an overall heritage development plan to recognize the significant history on the banks of the Hiwassee River. I am confident the Heritage Center will change the atmosphere in Charleston and give all Bradley County residents, as well as tourists, a place to come and learn about our history.

Present-day Charleston was 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. In 1838, Fort Cass was established along the Hiwassee River and covered 48 square miles. It included the area now known as Charleston and stretched toward Cleveland. The fort was the federal headquarters for the entire Trail of Tears operation as Native Americans were stripped of their rights and forced to leave their homelands. This was one of the most heart-wrenching, shameful and tragic events in U.S. history.

Following the construction of the railroad, the Hiwassee River was a pivotal crossing for troop movement in the Civil War. Charleston housed both Confederate and Union troops at various points in the war and the historic Henegar House was once headquarters for Union General William Sherman. I agree with Melissa Woody, vice president for the Convention and Visitors Bureau for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce when she told the Heritage Center audience at the grand opening, “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.” The Charleston-Calhoun area is one of the most significant historical sites in the eastern United States, especially as it relates to the Trail of Tears.

Americans have always taken road trips to learn about U.S. history, and Civil War sites usually top the list of destinations. Tennessee is part of the nation’s Civil War Trails program. When visitors follow the trail around the state, they will find Bradley County listed in the trail brochure and on the website. There are several significant Civil War sites in Bradley County and many more between Chattanooga and Knoxville. These are stories that are important to our local heritage and provide little-known facts about our county’s role in the Civil War. Our two Gateway markers, the Civil War trail brochure and the website are great tools to promote this story and our community.

Bradley County has an important story to tell and the new Hiwassee River Heritage Center will give tourists one more reason to stop in the county and perhaps visit some of our restaurants and shops while they are here. Learn more about the Center at http://www.tnvacation.com/vendors/hiwassee-river-heritage-center.

We don’t have an amusement park, a beach or other attractions usually associated with a family vacation. However, our county’s scenic beauty and unparalleled history provide tremendous opportunities for growth in our local tourism industry. We are proud of the partnerships we have with the state and neighboring counties to promote our region. By working together we reach more visitors and create incentives to encourage them to stay longer. This translates into a strong impact on our economy.

Telling our story is important to our heritage. Attracting visitors is important to our economy. When visitors learn about our area, they stop for lunch and fuel or even decide to make Bradley County their headquarters to see sites all around Southeast Tennessee. As the Chamber’s visitors guide says, we’re “in the middle of it all” when it comes to enjoying all that Southeast Tennessee has to offer.

Whether it is special events, outdoor beauty and adventure or American history, Bradley County is “Tennessee at its best.” I am thankful and humbled to call this wonderful place my home.