Almost 200 years ago, the land around the Hiwassee River was a much different place. The north side of the river was, and still is, Calhoun, located in the United States. The south side of the Hiwassee, present-day Charleston, was a thriving Cherokee community called Walker’s Ferry with missions, farmlands, stores and families. The last federal Cherokee Indian Agency was located here. The Agency (1820-1834) provided protection for the Cherokee people and was akin to a present-day embassy. In prior years (1785 – 1820) and in previous locations, the Agency was responsible for issuing passports for visitors to enter into the Cherokee Nation. The area known today as Charleston was a gateway to the Cherokee Nation. Charleston is located along U.S. Hwy 11, 3 miles east of I-75, exit 33, south of the Hiwassee River.
In 1835, the Agency area became Fort Cass, a federal military post. Fort Cass was the military operational headquarters for the entire Cherokee Removal. Approximately 9000 Cherokee, 600 Creek and 300 slaves were forcibly gathered here. In the fall of 1838, Fort Cass was the scene of one of the greatest American tragedies carried out in history, the forced removal of the Cherokee from their eastern homeland on what is now known as the Trail of Tears.
Though the Trail of Tears is the most nationally significant history of the area, history comes in layers. The layers include significant Civil War activity, an agricultural boom as the “Cowpea Capital of the World,” completion of the railroad, industrialization, and a visit from Hollywood. Charleston and Calhoun may be small Tennessee towns, but their place in history is big.