Opening of Cherokee projects slated for March 29, 30

Special to the Banner
Posted 3/24/19

The expansion of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center and the National Historic Trail Experience in Charleston will officially open to the public on Saturday, March 30.A special ribbon-cutting ceremony …

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Opening of Cherokee projects slated for March 29, 30


The expansion of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center and the National Historic Trail Experience in Charleston will officially open to the public on Saturday, March 30.

A special ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled around noon Friday, March 29, for invited guests, donors and supporters.

An open house for the general public will follow from 1 until 5 p.m.on Saturday.

Saturday’s open house will feature booths from area historic sites and organizations, as well as four featured speakers throughout the day.

Speakers for Saturday include Troy Wayne Poteete, executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association; Jim Ogden, staff historian for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park; Joe Guy, historian and sheriff of McMinn County; and Laura Bryan Spann, Calhoun native and researcher specializing in family stories. The speakers will present in the heritage center’s newly-added Carl E. Colloms Education Room.

“We invite everyone to come for any part of the event on Saturday, or stay with us the whole time,” said Darlene Goins, Manager of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center. “The information being presented is definitely going to be interesting and worth staying with us.” 

The public is also invited to a presentation the evening before the open house, on Friday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m., at Walker Valley High School Auditorium.  Western Carolina University’s Dr. Brett Riggs, a leading Cherokee researcher and archaeologist, will present research he has gathered about Fort Cass, the emigration depot that was located in and around present-day Charleston. Fort Cass was the military operational headquarters for the entire Trail of Tears Cherokee Removal.

Riggs and his team have been conducting ground-penetrating radar studies of the area and has new information to present.

Owned by the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society, the Hiwassee River Heritage Center first opened in May, 2013, always with the intention of expanding to add an exhibit hall and an education room.  With many community-minded donors and supporters, the George Robert and Doris Bolen Johnson Exhibit Hall and the Carl E. Colloms Education Room are complete.  A complete list of donors will be displayed at the heritage center with a major supporter being the USDA – Rural Development. 

“We could never have accomplished these projects without donors and supporters. We have been so blessed to have the right people in our paths at the right time, and it has been a whole host of people who have made this center and trail happen over these last 13 years of working and planning,” said Melissa Woody, vice president for Tourism Development of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, and Development Chair for the Charleston, Calhoun, Hiwassee Historical Society.

The curator of the exhibit is the team from the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University, led by Amy Kostine with assistance by Dr. Carroll Van West, Savannah Grandey and Stefanie Haire. The exhibit features extensive information beginning with pre-Cherokee native peoples, and  goes through Cherokee settlements, the federal Indian Agency, Fort Cass and the Cherokee Removal. The exhibit also examines Charleston and Calhoun’s role in the Civil War and after, through industrialization. 

Local artifacts and a special set of images will be coming on loan from the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  The images from McClung are colorized versions of sketches drawn by Madeline Kneberg and have never before been publicly displayed in color. CPQ Pics is generously printing the images expressly for the Hiwassee River Heritage Center. 

Kneberg is famous for her work on excavations in the Tennessee Valley, beginning in the 1930s. She was the first female to become a full professor at UT outside of the home economics curriculum and one of the first prominent female archaeologists in the U.S. She was instrumental in establishing the McClung Museum as well as the anthropology department at UTK. 

“We are beyond honored to be the first to display these colorized versions of Professor Kneberg’s colorized depictions of life in pre-Cherokee times,” said Joe Bryan, president of the Charleston-Calhoun-Historical Society. “This is an opportunity we jumped on when it was offered to us by the incredible staff of the McClung Museum.”

The new National Historic Trail experience is also making its debut. This first segment of the trail connects the Hiwassee River Heritage Center to the Charleston Park. The trail concept was designed by the National Park Service and funded with a federal grant.  The grant was match with labor and materials generously donated by Caldwell Paving Company.

This segment of the trail is called “Voices from the Past” and features significant quotes about the Cherokee Removal at Fort Cass from Cherokee and missionaries and from military figures. The signs were researched and designed by the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation Team with assistance from Laura Bryan Spann and several resources to vet the material. 

“The trail sets the stage for learning more about the Trail of Tears and bringing the struggle of that time to a personal level,” explained Woody. “Presenting quotes from the people affected by this difficult time in history really brings this story to life and to a relatable place for all of us as human beings.”

The trail experience and the heritage center are two components of a master plan for heritage development in the Charleston and Calhoun communities. The trail is intended to extend beyond the Charleston Park and eventually reach the Hiwassee River at a river park which would complete the master plan.  There is also intention to connect with the Cleveland/Bradley Greenway as it extends toward the Hiwassee River. 

“We are looking forward to offering a more detailed experience for our visitors. Our vision is to host groups – students and adults, increase our programming, continue extending the greenway and ultimately preserving this nationally significant history in our communities,” Bryan said.  “This expanded facility and trail will allow us to fulfill these goals.” 

Again, the public is invited to a special free presentation by Dr. Brett Riggs, 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 29 at Walker Valley High School Auditorium, and the Open House will be on Saturday, March 30, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. featuring informational booths and mini-seminars by distinguished guest speakers.  Speakers and topics include 

• Joe Guy, historian and sheriff of McMinn County, will speak on “The History of Walker’s Ferry on the Hiwassee.”

• Troy Wayne Poteete, executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association, will introduce us to “Charleston-Calhoun Cherokee Characters.”

• Jim Odgen, staff historian for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, will present “The Railroad Brings War to the Hiwassee”

• Laura Spann, retired educator, Calhoun native and researcher specializing in family, will speak about the “Hiwassee River Twin Cities after the Civil War.”

Parking at the heritage center will be limited to handicap and disabled parking. Plenty of parking is available at the new trailhead parking lot next to the park and across from heritage center back yard. 

“We hope everyone will join us for this milestone occasion,” Goins said. “This project has been in development for many years and we are so grateful for the opportunity to share these important stories with residents and visitors, groups and individuals.”


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