CHARLESTON, Tenn. - Local history lovers were invited Sunday to pay a rare visit to a place that's seen it all.
The Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society held its October meeting at the privately owned Bend of the River Farm, also known as the Varnell Farm.
"Even before the Cherokees, there were people living on this land. I mean this land," said Debbie Moore, standing on the front porch of the century-old farmhouse as about 50 Historical Society members and others sat around in lawn chairs.
The farm occupies part of a peninsula of Bradley County that juts into the Hiwassee River. The U.S. government's Indian Agency once occupied the site, then it was used for encampments related to the Cherokee Removal in 1838.
The historical society is making some history of its own, said Faye Callaway, society president. The fundraising drive to secure a heritage center building to anchor an interpretative greenway is closing in on the goal, she said. A week ago, representatives of the National Park Service visited historical sites around the Charleston and Calhoun areas.
As of late September, the effort had raised nearly $91,000, or about 70 percent of the $132,000 needed to buy an empty bank building on U.S. Highway 11 at the intersection with the historic "concrete highway," a remnant of the former U.S. 11.
The Historical Society's projects belong to the public, Callaway said.
"We want this to be about you guys," she told the attending crowd Sunday.
A ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of Union sympathizers burning the railroad bridge over the Hiwassee River will be Nov. 4-5. Re-enactors will portray some of those bridge burners.
"I've had to drive a few hours to these events, so it's exciting to have one here," said Civil War re-enactor Will Tarver, dressed Sunday in a Union Army uniform, sitting on the farmhouse porch with Larry and Brenda Ramsey, who were dressed in their Southern attire.
The Charleston bridge burning was a family affair for Ramsey, who had ancestors on both sides - pro-Confederates guarding the bridge and pro-Unionists burning it.