The land around the Hiwassee River was a different place 200 years ago. It was a thriving Cherokee community with missions, farmlands, stores, and families. Present-day Charleston was once the location of the federal Cherokee Indian Agency providing protection for the Cherokee people. This was a gateway to a separate nation from the United States of America, the Cherokee Nation.
In the fall of 1838, the agency area was the scene of one of the greatest American tragedies in history, the forced removal of the Cherokee from their eastern homeland on what is now known as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Agency site and the miles around it became Ft. Cass, a collection of encampments where Native Americans, mostly Cherokee, were assembled and held under supervision of federal troops. Ft.Cass was the headquarters for the entire removal operation.
Years later during the Civil War, Charleston’s position on the Hiwassee made it a pivotal position in war strategy. Several historic structures were used by both Union and Confederate soldiers including an overnight stay by Union Gen. William T. Sherman at the historic Henegar House.
Charleston’s social and cultural history is significant as the town with the first black mayor and first black police chief in Tennessee. The 20th Century Fox motion picture Wild River was filmed in and around Bradley County and the Hiwassee River was a focal point in the film. This small town has a big story, one largely untold until recent years.