published Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Festival celebrates school, river, movie and cowpeas

  • photo
    A photo from the History Branch of the Cleveland/Bradley County Public Library shows Bradley County High School as it looked in 1911. Bradley Central High School was built closer to Cleveland in 1916.The Charleston school building burned in 1926 and a new school opened in 1927. The photo was among the collection of the late Dr. William Snell, county historian. Staff Photo by Randall Higgins/Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHARLESTON, Tenn. — What began last summer as a 50th anniversary festival about the filming of the movie “Wild River” has become the Hiwassee River Heritage Festival.

And this weekend’s festival focuses on the 100th anniversary of Bradley County’s first true high school, Bradley County High School in Charleston.

Bradley High opened in 1911 in what had been a grammar school, funded with a local tax and some state money, according to the book “The History of Bradley County.” But it served its purpose only five years. In 1916, what became Bradley Central High School was built closer to Cleveland.

The original Bradley High building burned in 1926 and was replaced in 1927 by Charleston High School, now an elementary school.

Darlene Goins, with the Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society, said officials will open the school’s cornerstone and “see what’s in there.”

After a 6 p.m. alumni basketball game at what is now Charleston Elementary on Friday, a full day of activities is planned for Saturday.

Along with music from Don Wilson and Boys At Heart, vendors, stories about the Hiwassee River and the movie, there is a cowpea cook-off.

“Does anybody know what a cowpea is?” asked Faye Callaway, president of the historical society, during its last meeting.

  • What: Hiwassee River Heritage Festival

  • When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday

  • Where: Charleston City Park and Charleston Elementary School, U.S. 11 in Charleston, Exit 33 from I-75.

  • Cost: $5; ages 12 and under free

  • Information:

Several people raised their hands. It turns out cowpeas are what many people know as field peas. A century or more ago, according to some Internet sites, the cowpea was food for livestock, for slaves and the very poor.

“We were once the cowpea capital,” Callaway said.

The historical society has been focused on promoting the Hiwassee River’s pivotal role in the Trail of Tears, when Cherokees were forced to leave their lands in the Southeast in the 1830s, and later the Civil War.

“But we have some more recent history, too,” Callaway said.

A documentary on the filming of the 1960 movie “Wild River” starring Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick debuts today at 7 p.m. at the Museum Center at Five Points in Cleveland.

Some local people who appeared in the movie will be at Charleston’s city park Saturday to share their stories.

Contact Randall Higgins at or 423-314-1029.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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