For more information on the Cowpea Festival, go to www.cowpeafestival.com or contact the Bradley/Cleveland Chamber of Commerce at 423-472-6587.
CHARLESTON, Tenn. -- The Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society wants to give folks a taste of local agricultural heritage with the first-ever Cowpea Festival on Sept. 15.
At a recent Charleston City Commission meeting, society members announced plans for the festival and provided updates on the city's new Hiwassee River Heritage Center.
"Some time ago, we were looking to do a food festival that was rooted in this area when Farm Bureau President Jack Sanders mentioned that Charleston used to be the cowpea capital of the United States," said Melissa Woody, co-chairwoman for the event and vice president of the Bradley/Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to research by society members, the hardy cowpeas -- which include a variety of field peas such as crowder peas and black-eyed peas -- arrived from Africa in the 18th century. Before railroads, the Hiwassee River was the primary transportation route for exporting the popular staple, which fed both livestock and people.
The festival will feature amateur and professional cowpea cook-off events, sponsored by Whirlpool Corp., said organizers. Whirlpool will provide five ranges for cooking demonstrations.
The Cowpea Festival also will host a pageant and musical entertainment, capping the day off with 7 p.m. concert by Grammy-winning singer Suzy Boggus, organizers said.
In the meantime, renovation of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center is moving fast, said society Treasurer Darlene Goins, who will manage the volunteers at the repurposed bank office. Goins said she expects the center to have a "soft" opening in August.
Woody said financing for the site is on track, noting Bowater Employee Credit Union recently contributed $2,000 toward the payoff of a $7,000 interest-free bridge loan provided by the Bradley/Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. The balance of the $132,000 purchase price was met through contributions to the society.
The center will help preserve and interpret local history, especially in regard to the Cherokee Indian nation, the Civil War and the 20th century.
Event programming for the center is still under discussion, said Goins, but it will play a supporting role for the Cowpea Festival. The center is scheduled to host works from an upcoming amateur agricultural and landscape photo competition as a lead-up to the festival.