Charleston and Calhoun have been called the “Twin Cities.” A river separates them, but more than a bridge connects them. The stories and people of the area are woven like a tapestry through both communities. They were once both located in the Cherokee Nation, which covered all or parts of six states at one time. As treaties were signed the Cherokee Nation decreased in size. The Hiwassee Treaty in 1819 brought the border of the United States to the Hiwassee River, so that in the years that followed, Charleston was still in the Cherokee Nation and Calhoun, across the river, was the United States of America.
Though some of the buildings of yesteryear are gone, landmarks from this history can still be identified. A map is available at the Hiwassee River Heritage Center to guide you to these significant places in Charleston and Calhoun.
Hiwassee River Heritage Center – 8746 Hiwassee Street (Hwy 11), Charleston
Discover a compelling story of human spirit and tragic sacrifice. The banks of the Hiwassee River were witness to nationally significant history involving the Trail of Tears and the Civil War. Present-day Charleston was once the site of the federal Indian Agency and eventually Fort Cass, the U.S. military headquarters for the entire Cherokee removal. The Hiwassee River was a pivotal crossing for troop movement in the Civil War and several officers on both sides of the conflict made Charleston a stop in their operations. Discover these important stories and more at this recently expanded interpretive center, designated by the National Park Service as a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
National Historic Trail of Tears Tribute
8746 Hiwassee Street (Hwy 11), Charleston
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 is intended to be completed in phases and eventually connect the Hiwassee River Heritage Center to the Hiwassee River. This segment of the trail is called “Voices from the Past” and features significant quotes about the Cherokee Removal at Fort Cass from Cherokee people and missionaries on the east side of the trail and U.S. military and political figures on the west side. The trail sets the stage for learning more about the Trail of Tears and bringing the struggle of that time to a personal level. Presenting quotes from the people affected by this difficult time in history brings this story to life and to a relatable place for all of us as human beings. Trailhead is located behind the Hiwassee River Heritage Center with additional and bus parking at Charleston Park.
Fort Cass (non-extant) Fort Cass was a collection of many encampments covering about 30 square miles which included present-day Charleston and stretched toward Cleveland. Fort Cass was the military headquarters for the entire Cherokee Trail of Tears operation. It was one of three major federal emigration depots where Native Americans, mostly Cherokee, were assembled and held under supervision of federal troops. The two other assembly areas were Ross’ Landing in Chattanooga and Gunter’s Landing in Alabama. Within Fort Cass, federal troops headquartered near the heart of the current city of Charleston. Troops used the former Cherokee Agency as part of the military post. Two federally recognized trail routes are traced from the Fort Cass area – the Bell Route which included one detachment and the Northern Route, which included nine detachments. Rattlesnake Springs, listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, served as one of the Cherokee encampments within Fort Cass and is the most famous and recognizable name associated with this area. The springs are located off Dry Valley Road on a privately-owned farm operated by the Moore family since 1850.
Cherokee Agency (1820 – 1834) – Broadway Street (west side), Charleston
The site of the U.S. Federal Cherokee Agency is believed to have been located on a hill across the spring from the Henegar House. Research indicates that the Agency consisted of at least seven structures and provided services to the Cherokee. More research is needed to confirm if any of the structures on the west side of Broadway were standing at the time of the Agency. This site features an ideal vantage point of the Hiwassee River. Return J. Meigs served as the Indian Agent from 1801 – 1823 (at this site from 1820-1823). Tennessee Governor Joseph McMinn was also Indian Agent from 1823 to his death in 1824. The last Indian Agent was Hugh Montgomery who served from 1824-1833. From Hwy 11 in Charleston, turn right on Cass St, then left on Broadway. (private properties; view from street)
Henegar House – 428 Market Street, Charleston
Henry Benton Henegar served as wagonmaster and secretary under Chief John Ross and accompanied the Cherokee on their removal to the West. Henegar returned to Charleston and constructed his brick, Federal Style home in 1849. He and his wife Margaret Lea Henegar are buried with their family at Historic Ft. Hill Cemetery in Cleveland. Listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the home was constructed at the site of the military barracks of Fort Cass. During the Civil War, the home was used as headquarters for Confederate and Union generals, including Gen. William T. Sherman. Located 2 blocks east of U.S. Hwy 11 between Cass and Water streets. (private residence; view from street) Note the Civil War Trails marker just north of the front gate.
Charleston United Methodist Church – 128 Cass Street, Charleston
The cornerstone of Charleston United Methodist Church is carved with the date 1825, likely making it the oldest congregation in Bradley County. Prior to 1825, it was a Methodist mission at the Cherokee Agency.
Located 1 block east of U.S. Hwy 11 on Cass St.
Lewis Ross House/Barrett Hotel Site– 373 Market Street, Charleston
A home was built on this site in 1820 by Lewis and Frances Holt Ross. Lewis, brother of Chief John Ross, was a successful businessman, while his brother was the politician of the family. This was one of many homes and structures built and owned by Lewis Ross in the area of the Cherokee Agency (present-day Charleston). After the Removal, the house was owned by S.S. Barrett and served as a hotel for weary travelers. Fires in the 1880s and many house alterations have significantly changed the original appearance of the house. From Hwy 11, turn east on Cass. Go 0.7 miles and turn right on Market St. (private residence; view from street)
Hiwassee River – flowing between Bradley and McMinn counties
The Hiwassee River is the lifeblood of settlements in this area. Flowing from North Georgia, the 147-mile river is the first designated Scenic River in Tennessee and is dammed in three locations by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). It flows through the Cherokee National Forest and passes the sites of the Cherokee Agency and Fort Cass before converging with the Tennessee River in Meigs County. The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is located in the confluence area. At the Agency area in present-day Charleston, villages settled on the banks of the Hiwassee and ferry crossings carried people and goods across the river. The Agency, previously known as Walker’s Ferry, was a center for commerce and trade still attracting industrial development today. From Native Peoples to industrial corporations and everyone between, the Hiwassee River is at the heart of this area’s stories.
Joseph McMinn gravesite – North Main Street, Calhoun
Joseph McMinn served as Governor of Tennessee from 1815 to 1821 and was President Andrew Jackson’s ally in the effort to remove the Cherokees. McMinn County, which bears his name, was formed out of the Hiwassee Purchase in 1819 as part of Cherokee land sales that McMinn was instrumental in organizing. In 1823, McMinn was made Indian Agent and was stationed at the Agency in Charleston where he died at his desk in 1824. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church and had requested that when he died, he be buried with his feet at the front steps of the church, so he could be the first in on Resurrection Day. His grave is marked by a 12-foot tall obelisk in Shiloh Presbyterian Cemetery. From Charleston, take Hwy 11 north to Calhoun. Turn right Hwy 163 (Etowah Rd), then left on N Main.
Gideon Blackburn Mission Site – North Main Street, Calhoun
The Cherokee Mission was established circa 1804 by Gideon Blackburn, who was an early missionary to the Cherokee. It was located at the current Shiloh Presbyterian Cemetery. This was also the site of the Presbyterian Church which was destroyed by Union troops during the Civil War. From Charleston, take Hwy 11 north to Calhoun. Turn right Hwy 163 (Etowah Rd), then left on N Main.
Meigs Home Marker – Main Street, Calhoun
Col. Return J. Meigs was a Revolutionary War hero and Indian Agent to the Cherokee from 1801 until 1823. A historical marker, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1930, is located on Calhoun’s Main Street just south of Hwy 163 indicating that at one time his home was in the area. Further research indicates that he also lived at the Agency and died there in 1823. Meigs is buried in Rhea County at Garrison Cemetery. From Charleston, take Hwy 11 north to Calhoun. Turn right Hwy 163 (Etowah Rd), then right on Main St.
Calhoun Methodist Church (non-extant) & Calhoun Community Cemetery – 106 Church Street, Calhoun
Calhoun Methodist Church was established in 1820 at this location and served both early settlers and Cherokee families. The site of the original building, now marked with a gazebo and known as Meditation Park, is surrounded by some of the earliest graves in McMinn County dating to 1823. The church served the community here until 1963 when the congregation moved to a new building on Hwy 163. The Calhoun United Methodist Church celebrated its bicentennial in 2020. From Charleston, take Hwy 11 north to Calhoun. Turn right Hwy 163 (Etowah Rd), then right on Church St.
Col. Gideon Morgan Gravesite – 106 Church Street, Calhoun
Morgan served under General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War (1813-1814) as the commander of the Cherokee volunteer regiment. As a result, Morgan became well acquainted with Chief John Ross and other notable Cherokees. Morgan married the Cherokee daughter of Joseph Sevier (Cherokee granddaughter of Gov. John Sevier) and was living in Calhoun at the time of his death in 1851. He and two Cherokee grandchildren are buried in the Calhoun Community Cemetery. The inscription on his gravestone reads in part, “His deeds were noble and his acts were just, Truth was his motto and in God his trust.” From Charleston, take Hwy 11 north to Calhoun. Turn right Hwy 163 (Etowah Rd), then right on Church St.
Sarah Elizabeth Ross Gravesite – 106 Church Street, Calhoun
In the cemetery of Calhoun Methodist Church is the grave of Sarah Elizabeth Ross, the two-year-old daughter of Cherokee businessman Lewis Ross and niece of Chief John Ross. Sarah became sick and died while the family was living near Calhoun in 1824. From Charleston, take Hwy 11 north to Calhoun. Turn right Hwy 163 (Etowah Rd), then right on Church St.
SIGNIFICANT AREA SITES
Red Clay State Historic Park – 1140 Red Clay Park, Cleveland
Red Clay served as the last eastern council grounds of the Cherokee Nation with 11 councils held from 1832-1837. Prior to 1832, the Cherokee capital was located at New Echota until the state of Georgia passed an act prohibiting the Cherokee to hold council meetings. At the Red Clay Council Grounds, a proposed treaty with the United States in October 1835 was unanimously rejected by the Cherokee. Chief John Ross led the movement for the Cherokee to remain in the eastern lands and refused their removal to Oklahoma. In December 1835, the US government signed a fraudulent treaty with a minority faction, ceding the last remaining portion of the original Cherokee homeland in favor of removal to the west as a means of preserving Cherokee traditions and culture. Listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, Red Clay State Historic Park is a certified interpretive site on the National Historic Trail of Tears. The park features replicas of a Cherokee farmhouse, cabins and council house as well as an interpretive center with exhibits and artifacts. A sapphire-blue spring produces over 400,000 gallons of water each day. Picnic areas and a two-mile loop invite visitors to make a day of their Red Clay visit. Follow Hwy 60/Dalton Pike south from Cleveland 12 miles. Turn right on Weatherly Switch Rd and follow signs to park.
Cherokee Removal Memorial Park
6800 Blythe Ferry Lane, Birchwood
This memorial park, complete with a boardwalk, overlook shelter on top of the bluff, and a visitors/educational center remembers one of the worst acts of “man’s inhumanity to man.” After leaving Ft. Cass (present-day Charleston), approximately 9,000 Cherokee and 500 Creek camped here while waiting to cross the Tennessee River on their forced removal in 1838, now known as the Trail of Tears. As the Cherokee crossed the Tennessee, looking back would be the last time they saw their eastern homelands. Visit www.CherokeeRemoval.org for more information. Park is open everyday during daylight hours; visitors center is open Thursday –Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. From Cleveland, travel west on Hwy 60 toward Dayton and pass through Georgetown. Cross Hwy 58 and pass through Birchwood. Travel approximately 3 more miles and turn right on Shadden Rd. (If you cross the bridge over the Tennessee River, you have gone too far). Turn left onto Blythe Ferry Lane. Park is on the right.
Nancy Ward Grave
Highway 411, Benton
At 17, Nancy Ward earned the name of Ghighau or “Beloved Woman” for rallying the Cherokee warriors to victory after her husband died in battle. This act of bravery catapulted Ward onto the Women’s Council and the Council of Chiefs. Her high standing among her people, her remarriage in the 1750s to English trader Bryant Ward, and her desire for peaceful coexistence made Ward a trusted liaison to the newly arriving white settlers. In 1923, the Nancy Ward Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument on her grave. Travel east on Hwy 64 from Cleveland. Turn left onto Hwy 411. After 4-5 miles, bear to right. Gravesite is on the right on a hill.