I grew up in Calhoun, Tennessee, which is across the river near Forty Pastures. This area was the oldest part of Calhoun and was founded by John Walker. John Walker and Jack Walker are notable figures in this region’s history. John Walker founded the city of Calhoun, and when you do research about the Indian agency, it often references Calhoun, Tennessee. The post office and churches were in Calhoun, and several Cherokees and Cherokee descendants are buried in the cemetery across the river on the north side of Calhoun. This can be a source of confusion.

I lived there, moved away for 40 years, and in the last few years, I returned to the area and became really involved in the local history. This is my first business meeting, so I’m a bit nervous, but it has been a pleasure meeting all of you. If you have any questions we can’t answer today, I will take them back and research them for you.

My name is Darlene Going, and I’m the treasurer for the Charleston and Calhoun Historical Society and the facilities manager for the Hiwassee River Heritage Center. Before I start talking about Fort Cass, I want to explain why I’m involved in this. I’m not Cherokee, though many people in our area claim Cherokee heritage. Despite my efforts, I haven’t found Cherokee ancestry in my family.

I grew up in Charleston and have lived in the surrounding area all my life. I always knew there was a fort there, and I had heard of Fort Cass. I knew Lewis Ross had a house there. The house that remains now is Lewis Ross’s house. There has been so much misinformation about Fort Cass, and until recently, nobody was interested in correcting it. People in Charleston were often unresponsive to inquiries about Fort Cass.

In 2008, Charlie Lawrence approached Melissa Woody at the Chamber of Commerce and said that Charleston had a national story that needed to be told. This sparked the formation of the Charleston and Calhoun Historical Society. Laura Callaway was our first president and initiated the first steps to form the society. Both Charleston and Calhoun have deep historical ties, and the groundwork for the Historical Society was laid.

We held our first meeting in January 2008 and were chartered by the end of the year. Less than a year later, we began planning for a Heritage Center and an interpretive Greenway. We conducted more research and attended meetings like this one, which helped us talk to the right people and progress in our endeavors.

The Historical Society has grown significantly. Our average monthly attendance is around 40 people. Our meetings are held on the third Sunday of each month, except for September due to the county festival and the holiday months of November and December. The Hiwassee River Heritage Center opened in May 2013, just five years after we were chartered. We have had approximately 1,000 visitors since then.

The Historical Society and Heritage Center have many partners, including the city council, MTSU, and the National Park Service. The city of Charleston helps by paying our utilities. Our Heritage Center is located in an old bank building, and we have turned the old deposit vault into a fireplace. The interior of the Heritage Center features panels created by MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation.

Charleston is located in southeast Tennessee, close to Fort Cass. In 1835, Fort Cass was the northernmost point of the Cherokee Nation. If you stood on the Calhoun side of the river and looked south, you were in the United States. Conversely, if you stood on the Charleston side and looked north, you were in the Cherokee Nation. This small river separated two nations.

We owe much of our progress to the National Park Service and their detailed mapping efforts. They created a historic Fort Cass immigration depot map, showing all the roads and encampments. This map has been invaluable for our research and preservation efforts.

We have identified several encampment sites, which are mostly on ridgelines near freshwater sources. Many of these areas are still farmland, unchanged since 1838. This preservation of the landscape is crucial for our historical interpretation.

The support from various entities, including the city of Charleston, MTSU, the National Park Service, and local farmers, has been instrumental. For example, the local farmer who operates the produce company farms the land where these historic encampments are located.

The maps created by the National Park Service show the historic roads and encampment sites, and we have been working to interpret and preserve these areas. One of the significant discoveries we made is that the military encampments were often near springs, while the Cherokee encampments were nearby but not at the springs themselves.

Our goal is to preserve these sites and create interpretive trails for visitors. We are working with property owners to place wayside markers and develop trails that connect the Heritage Center to these historic sites.

The vision includes creating a walking and biking trail that follows the historic routes and provides educational interpretation. We have received a grant to help fund the development of this trail.

In summary, our work in Charleston and Calhoun is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the rich history of Fort Cass and the Cherokee Nation. Through the efforts of the Historical Society, the Heritage Center, and our many partners, we aim to educate the public and honor the legacy of those who lived in this area. Thank you for your support and interest in our work.

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