The small towns of Charleston and Calhoun, just 20 minutes outside Chattanooga, are bound to Chattanooga by more than the water that forms the valley they set in. They are bound by the people who moved through this area. Charleston and Calhoun are following in Chattanooga’s proverbial “footsteps” by creating a greenway that will explore the history of the travels of people through their towns. This greenway will include the Concrete Highway, Fort Cass, Cypress Swamp and the Hiwassee River.
The greenway will emphasize Charleston’s role as the “Gateway to the Cherokee Nation”. Located where the town is presently situated was the Federal Cherokee Indian Agency (1820-1833). This agency was charged with the protection of the Cherokee people and was placed at the edge of their territory. In order to enter the Cherokee territory, any white individual would need a passport issued by the Federal Cherokee Indian Agency. One of the Cherokees who operated in this area during that time was John Ross. John was the famous Cherokee that founded Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga, TN). During the removal of the Indians, this area became Fort Cass, the military headquarters for the removal effort. In the summer of 1838, thousands of Indians were held at Fort Cass waiting to begin their trek to Oklahoma on what would become known as the Trail of Tears.
The sections of the greenway around the Cypress Swamp and Hiwassee River will highlight the river’s role during the Civil War. With the building of the East-Tennessee and Georgia Railroad Bridge, which connected Chattanooga to the rest of the state, Charleston became a strategic place for the both sides of the Civil War. The bridge was destroyed numerous times during the Civil War. One of those times forced General Sherman to stop overnight in Charleston, TN on his famous “march to the sea”.
Included in the greenway will be the Concrete Highway. The Concrete Highway is a part of Old Highway 11 that ran from Chattanooga to Bristol through Charleston. The section of Highway 11 that runs through Charleston, Main Street, was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in June of 2010. It is one of the last untouched sections of the old highway that was completed in 1927.
Once the greenway is completed, it will be great to following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Maybe, even, trek up old Highway 11 from Chattanooga to Charleston or Calhoun and explore our combined histories while enjoying a little nature. It will be easy to follow John Ross, from his home in Rossville, to his business on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga and, finally, to Charleston where he led the Cherokee’s to their new home in Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.
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