CHARLESTON, Tenn. -- The Charleston/Calhoun/Hiwassee Historical Society has bought an empty branch bank building that will become a heritage center and anchor a history and nature interpretative greenway through town to the Hiwassee River.
David Fair of Regions Bank was on hand Friday to present the keys to the historical society's board chairman, Carl Colloms.
"There is a story to tell here, and we want to share it," Colloms said.
The center will have exhibits and information about the region's Civil War and Cherokee historical sites and will be staffed by local college students. The city has agreed to pay the utility bills. Middle Tennessee State University is doing much of the research and preparing the exhibit posters.
"If you don't tell the story, it will die," said Faye Callaway, society president.
The bank building's vault will help attract traveling exhibits from major national museums, she said.
Founded just over three years ago, the society has grown in numbers and plans. Its efforts to educate the public about Civil War and Trail of Tears events here have caught the attention of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, the National Park Service, TVA and others.
Private donors and contributions from Olin Chemical, Wright Brothers Construction and the Bradley County Historical Society raised money for the building. The Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce provided a $7,000 loan to bridge the gap to the $132,000 purchase price.
Melissa Woody, the Chamber's Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president, said the society soon will repay that loan.
Construction of the walk itself will be donated by Caldwell Paving Co. of Charleston.
The greenway will connect the history of the Hiwassee River, the Trail of Tears, Civil War sites, unique environmental spots such as a cypress swamp in the middle of town, TVA's beginnings and even the filming of the movie "Wild River" along the route.
But for now there is more work to do, Woody said, including more fundraising to support renovation of the building.