IF YOU GO
What: Hiwassee River Heritage Center grand opening and open house
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Where: 8746 Hiwassee St., Charleston, Tenn.
Parking: Limited to handicap access at the heritage center for the event. Other space will be available at the Charleston Elementary School football field parking lot across the street and at Service Trucking behind the center.
CHARLESTON, Tenn. — The Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society will see one of its major projects come to fruition Friday: the grand opening of the Hiwassee River Heritage Center.
"It's beautiful; it's a great addition to the city," Charleston City Commissioner Donna McDermott told society members recently. "I just hope that it fulfills all my expectations -- and I know that it will. Too much work has been put into it for it not to."
The grand opening will start at 2 p.m. with an invocation by Charleston Mayor Walter Goode, followed by a Cherokee blessing and a ribbon cutting. The site will be open to the public until 6 p.m.
Friday's event will commemorate the time, labor and money contributed to transform a former bank office on Hiwassee Street, a stretch of Highway 11 that runs through Charleston, into a cultural center of regional importance, said Melissa Woody, vice president of the visitors and convention bureau of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
The site's inaugural exhibit features works produced by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.
The heritage center is intended to be an educational tool for residents and visitors, according to a historical society news release. It also will function as a welcome center and a gateway to other regional historic sites.
"The heritage center is not meant to house historical collections, but it is meant to encourage people to go out and find historical places," said Dr. Carroll Van West, director of MTSU's Center for Historic Preservation.
The vision for the heritage center includes preserving and interpreting local history, especially in regard to the Cherokee Nation, the Civil War, the Tennessee Valley Authority and agriculture, officials said.
The heritage center maintains only one item in its permanent collection: a large painting depicting Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops at the Henegar House, a Charleston landmark, in late 1863. The work was commissioned by the Allan Jones Foundation and created by renowned historical artist Don Troiani.
The site likely will provide space for temporary exhibits of artifacts and other items of local importance in the future, Woody said. She said she would like to see the facility offer visitors the ability to record documents and photographs into a searchable database as a way to tell more stories about the area's past.
Society members said they are looking to the center's future and would like to expand its space and eventually incorporate it into a proposed greenway for Charleston.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.