CLEVELAND, Tenn. - If walls could talk, Christina and Jerry Griffith's house could hold history buffs spellbound for hours.

In fact, they may be saying a lot already about an important time in American history.

History fan and writer Debbie Moore has been collecting community stories and long-ago documents that show the house on Dalton Pike in the Flint Springs community predates the Cherokee removal days of the 1830s. She suspects that the home once belonged to John Martin, one of the leaders of the Cherokee Nation.

Sometime this month, a preservationist with the Southeast Tennessee Development District office in Chattanooga is expected to come to look at the house. After that, Moore hopes to begin the application to have the structure placed on both the National Trail of Tears and the National Register of Historic Places.

If all that happens, the Griffiths would be asked to open up the place to the public sometimes for events such as a local historical society meeting, perhaps. But that's OK with them.

"We love old houses too," Jerry Griffith said.

Moore has been enthusiastically researching the Cherokee background of south Bradley County for some time now. Her hope is that someday several sites from Flint Springs, Red Hill Valley and Red Clay can be linked into its own trail of tears.

"When they were forced out of Georgia, many of the leaders came across the state line to here," she said. "This is where many decisions were made that became part of American history."

The records at the history branch of the Cleveland/Bradley Public Library, along with Chattanooga Times newspaper history articles from the 1930s, community memories and other evidence, indicate that the Griffiths' house was once the home of John Martin.

"Everybody knows about John Ross," the former Cherokee chief, Moore said. "John Martin was one of that group of leaders that made the decisions."

According to the late Col. James F. Corn's history book, "Red Clay and Rattlesnake Springs," John Martin was "judge of the Amohee District, Judge of the Coosawattee District, Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, Delegate to the Cherokee Constitutional Convention, Chief Justice of the first Supreme Court of the Cherokees after the removal west, and a prominent participant in all the official affairs of the Cherokees both before and after the removal, lived at what later became known as the Byrd Hambright Place in Red Hill Valley in Bradley County."

The Byrd Hambright House is where the Griffiths live now, although the house was moved across Dalton Pike decades ago to preserve it and make way for a new house on its original site.

There are documents appraising Martin's Tennessee property in 1836, to determine how much he would be reimbursed by the government before moving west. Martin went west in 1837, on his own and not with the Trail of Tears migrations.

Because the inventory includes glass windows, a rare and expensive item in the 1830s, the Griffiths and Moore say it's possible Martin just bought the house and moved in. He would not have had much time between to collect all those things inventoried, they said.

When the Griffiths moved into the house seven years ago, they didn't know about the Trail of Tears connection.

"I liked it because it was old," Christina Griffith said. "Inside it looked very 1970s."

"Like any old house, it's always a work in progress," Jerry Griffith said.


Cherokee re-enactment at Fort Loudon. Friday in fyiWeekend