History of Cleveland

Our History

A Cherokee Nation: Strength through Tragedy

The history of the City of Cleveland is marked with triumphs, and conflict. It is marked with progress and temperance. It is marked with beautiful passions and complicated animosities. Above all, it is the history of a people with extraordinary spirit.

Decades before the Settlers first came to the rolling Appalachian valleys and peaks, what is now east Tennessee was the great and proud Cherokee nation. The Cherokee themselves likely had to war with another tribe, the Muscogee, for their land. Little is known, however, of the what life was like in Appalachia before the Cherokee. An old Cherokee myth speaks of an ancient “moon-eyed” people, who could not see during the day, and inhabited this land long before the Cherokee. There are many theories as to what was meant by this, and one of Tennessee’s Founding Fathers John Sevier even believed this was evidence of a Welsh voyage to America that predated Columbus. Regardless of who the “moon-eyed” people were, they were gone and the dawn of a new age in a New World was edging over the Appalachian peaks, and even the children of the day would be blinded by its light.

Many of the places so prevalent in the everyday lives of Clevelanders have roots that pre-date American settlement. The Black Fox community was named after the Cherokee Chief Black Fox. Candies Creek and Harries Creek are of the Cherokee men, John Candy and ------ Harris who owned land they ran through. Ocoee is a Cherokee word meaning “apricot vine place”.

The interactions between the Cherokee and the early settlers could often be unpredictable and a thorough study of this history finds that every interaction was unique. It was ultimately dependent upon the degree to which both parties would let prejudices and predispositions dominate their interactions. In these early interactions there were great successes, but also frustrating failures. Of course nationally, the tragic erosion of the relationship between the United States and the Native Americans is the overwhelming theme of our early history.

However, as one studies localities, communities, and specific interactions in more depth it becomes apparent that not all interactions between the Americans and the Cherokee were negative. In fact, many stories of great humanity, diplomacy, and understanding come to light. One of the greatest diplomats in the relationship between the Cherokee nation and the United States was Nancy Ward, or Nanyehi as she was known among the Cherokee. Nanyehi won the admiration of the Cherokee after taking up arms against the Creeks to avenge her fallen husband in the Battle of Tailwa. She later remarried to an English trader named Bryant Ward, taking the English name Nancy Ward. Although Bryant and Nancy had a daughter, Elizabeth Betsy Ward, Bryant decided go back to his English wife in South Carolina.

nancy ward

Because of her heroism during the Battle of Tailwa, Nancy Ward was given the title “Ghigau” or Beloved Woman among the Cherokee. Because of this position Ward took a leadership role in the Cherokee community. Ward made many improvements to the lives of her people, such as introducing diary farming for the first time to the Cherokee. But, as 1776 approached and rebellious sentiments grew among the colonists her leadership was tested. Ward’s leadership role helped carefully navigated the Cherokee nation through the Revolutionary War so that no retribution was leveled by the victors. Following the American victory in the Revolutionary War Ward played a prominent role in negotiating the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell between the Confederation Congress and the Cherokee nation. The Treaty, signed in South Carolina, established comparatively positive terms between the parties involved, was one of the first between the independent continental government and Native American nations.

General Return J. Meigs Sr.: Spirit of Selflessness

In 1801 General Meigs moved to east Tennessee to serve as the United States military agent to the Cherokee nation. General Meigs served in the Revolutionary War and was an aide to General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. In the 1820s General Meigs returned, and worked to better the quickly deteriorating relationship between the United States and the Cherokee people. Meigs advocated for Cherokee interests when treaties were negotiated, and attempted to introduce democratic principle to Cherokee. In the late 1830s, temperatures dropped to unbearable lows. In a phenomenal act of respect, friendship, and empathy towards the Cherokee people General Meigs offered his space in the warm outpost to the Cherokee Chief. That night Meigs slept outside in the Chief’s place. Meigs died of pneumonia a few days later. The two disparate lives of General Meigs’ son and grandson show the diverging of the United States – Cherokee Nation relationship. Return J. Meigs Jr. was elected Governor of Ohio and a U.S. Senator from Ohio. Return J. Meigs IV married the daughter of Cherokee Chief John Ross. Following the Indian Removal Act of 1831, Meigs IV accompanied his wife West on the Trail of Tears. General Return J. Meigs Sr.’s grave is in Rhea County, Tennessee.

Unfortunately, relations between the Americans and the Cherokee deteriorated following the Treaty of Hopewell. In 1828 the United States elected General Andrew Jackson the seventh President of the United States. Jackson was the first Tennessean President and his policies supported a further democratization of the United States government, lending name to the Democratic party he founded. However, this democratization was yet to extend to inclusion of Native Americans. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, striking a significant blow to the relations between the United States and the Cherokee nation.

Shortly after the passage of the Indian Removal Act gold was found on Cherokee lands in northern Georgia. This expedited the relocation of the Cherokee, forcing them to move to the Red Clay lands. The meeting place of the Cherokee Council is just south of modern-day Cleveland. Council was held on the Red Clay grounds from approximately 1830 to 1838. Following the Cherokee removal from Georgia multiple Supreme Court cases were argued about the legality of the actions of the state of Georgia. The final decision of Worcester v. Georgia (1832) determined that the Cherokee nation was independent from the United States and that the state of Georgia had no jurisdiction over Cherokee lands. However, neither the executive nor the judiciary enforced the decision, and the Cherokee were never allowed to return to their lands in Georgia.

In 1835 the Cherokee suffered yet another blow with the signing of the Treaty of New Echota. This was negotiated without the consent of Cherokee officials, and involved moving the Cherokee yet again, this time to reservations west of the Mississippi river. This treaty was extremely unpopular among the Cherokee people. Chief John Ross sent Congress a petition of 15,000 signatures asking that the treaty be reconsidered. The Cherokee men who signed the treaty were ultimately murdered for their part in it. But, the Senate ratified the treaty, and the Cherokee people were forced from their land once again.

The Treaty of New Echota took the land that is now Cleveland out of the hands of the Cherokee and placed it in the hands of the United States. The contribution that the Cherokee made to the history of Cleveland was significant and remnants of the culture they left behind can still be seen today. The complicated history of the Cherokee in east Tennessee should not be overlooked, nor understated. The years between the signing of the Treaty of New Echota (1835) and the founding of the City of Cleveland (1842) were years of transition, tragedy, and promise. The tragic twilight of one community and culture brought about the exciting dawn of another.

log cabin

Early Settlement: New Beginnings

After the signing of the New Echota Treaty in !835, a proposal for the establishment of a new county on in southeast Tennessee was brought before the state legislature. The new county was to be named Bradley after a founding father of Tennessee. In 1836 Bradley County, Tennessee was established. The legislature also decided to name the seat of the county in honor of Revolutionary War Hero Benjamin Cleveland from North Carolina. The namesake of the new town was a much-discussed topic among the representatives. The decision was made to name the new town after the Revolutionary War General Benjamin Cleveland because many in Nashville hoped to attract the favor of a prominent North Carolinian family. Cleveland commanded North Carolina’s militia during the Revolutionary War and his most notable heroic actions in the Battle of King’s Mountain.

Benjamin Cleveland

The new county was given freedom by the legislature to choose where they would like to place the county seat. All that was required by the legislature was that the county seat be named Cleveland, in recognition of General Cleveland. For years the decision of where to place the county seat was a highly divisive topic in the small, but growing community of Bradley County. Some maintained that the seat would be best placed in present-day Charleston as to allow easier access to waterways. However, the majority favored placing the county seat in the place of original settlement called “Taylor’s Place”.

Taylor Spring

Taylor’s place held particular significance for the settlers in Bradley County because it was the home of one of the first settlers in the area, Andrew Taylor, in 1835. In 1842, after a vote among its citizens, Bradley County reported to the Tennessee State Legislature that this would be the site of the city of Cleveland. With this the citizens of Bradley County were able to build a government for the city of Cleveland that would guide it into prosperity as a city and a community.

The early Cleveland economy relied heavily on leather tannery and lumber. It was an outpost for trade in rural Appalachian Tennessee. The first stagecoach station in Cleveland was on Lea Street (modern-day Broad Street), and with time stagecoach taxi services became a very profitable business.

Cleveland’s involvement in politics and journalism grew as well. In 1844 the Democratic Party of Cleveland was established. By May of 1854 the Cleveland Daily Banner had issued its first edition. And, one of the most popular inns in Cleveland was the Democrat Corner on modern-day Ocoee Street. In the antebellum era inns and salons were known to be open and forthright about their politics. It was customary for travelers to inquire about the politics of the next town’s inns before deciding whether the accommodations in a town were to their liking. Following the Civil War the Democrat Corner would be renamed the Ocoee House.

Sadly, as the political conversation in Cleveland came at a time of deep national divide. The issue of slavery, and by extension the rights of the states, was on all Americans’ minds. Every person, family, and community had a unique opinion on this issue.

The Civil War: Cleveland Occupied

On June 8, 1861 Bradley County voted on the issue of secession from the Union. The vote total was 507 for and 1,382 against. This is unique among Southern counties, and is evidence of a healthy political discourse in Cleveland. For such a young community to dissent with the overwhelming opinion of its state is truly stunning. Although Bradley County opposed secession, the state of Tennessee as a whole cast 102,172-47,328 to secede from the Union.

While under Confederate control Cleveland processed copper mined at Copper Hill to become munitions. Cleveland and its access to the railway offered a significant strategic advantage as the war intensified. On June 30, 1862 President Lincoln wrote "To take and hold the railroad at or east of Cleveland, Tennessee I think fully as important of the taking and holding or Richmond."

In 1863 Union troops took Cleveland. In doing so they destroyed the copper rolling mill at Copper Hill, and confiscated the Broad Street Methodist Church building for use as a hospital. It is said that Cleveland flew the Union flag for almost the entirety of the Civil War, even while under the control of the Confederacy. 

Reconstruction: Cleveland at Work

black and white aerial pictures of downtown cleveland

In the years that followed the end of the Civil War, reconstruction allowed new industry to move into Cleveland causing a boom of manufacturing as the nineteenth century came to a close. Cleveland transitioned from a small community and rural Appalachian outpost to a city with an impressive culmination of manufacturing capabilities. Cleveland’s first railway mail system was established in 1868, thereby connecting its communications to the major cities of Tennessee and the United States at-large.

It was during this time that many industries began in Cleveland and would grow into largely influential brands. The Milne Chair Company, the Cleveland Casket Company, the Hardwick Clothing Company, and the Hardwick Stove Company are but a few.

Just as in the Civil War, Cleveland’s access to the railway and proximity to the national marketplace through Chattanooga were vital in drawing industry. Due to the entrepreneurial spirit and the work ethic of its citizens, Cleveland saw tremendous growth in the period following the Civil War.

What follows are photographs of industry and business in Cleveland:

Black and white picture of Craigmiles Hall

This picture is of one of the Craigmiles Buildings in Downtown Cleveland. The Craigmiles were a wealthy influential family in Cleveland in the latenineteenth century. Also downtown is the Craigmiles Hall, built by Waltet Craigmiles in 1878 to be Cleveland’s first opera house. Craigmiles Hall still stands today, and is a major landmark in historic Downtown Cleveland.

Black and White picture of Hardwick Stove workers in 1898

This picture is of workers for Hardwick Stoves taken in 1898. With the workers standing in the doorway are Colonel Joseph Hardwick, the founder of Hardwick Stoves (left, wearing a bow tie) and C.L. Hardwick his nineteen year old son (right).

Post Office Underconstruction 1910

Pictured above is the downtown Cleveland Post Office under construction in 1910.

World Wars: Cleveland Mobilized

As Cleveland industrial progress and growth continued, international politics grew tense and war in Europe soon became an inevitability. For three years President Woodrow Wilson was able to successfully keep the United States out of the war in Europe. However, following the Zimmerman Telegram and repeated U-Boat attacks that cost American lives, President Wilson’s hand was forced. This plunged the United States into the First World War. A war that would affect every city in America, from New York, to Cleveland.

For her part, Cleveland used her industry to aid the soldier in their fight abroad. The Old Woolen Mill was used to weave bandages for field hospitals. These bandages were then taken to the First Baptist Church and sewn together before being shipped to the trenches in Europe. This demonstrates Cleveland’s community in the time of crisis of war.

Unfortunately, the community would be tested again only a decade later. The Cleveland area had received national attention in the years before the Second World War. As part of his New Deal plan to help stimulate the United States’ economy President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Tennessee Valley Authority which aimed to build dams that would generate electricity from the Tennessee River. In his 1940 campaign for an unprecedented third term as President, FDR stopped at the Chickamauga dam on September 2.

Roosevelt, like Wilson, tried earnestly to keep the United States out of the conflict in Europe. And, due to an intense isolationist movement he faced scrutiny and push-back from Congress on any program, like his Lend- Lease program that may draw the United States into war. However, almost all opposition to entering the war dissolved on December 7, 1941. The Imperial Japanese military attacked the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans. For the Second time in the still-young century the United States was pulled into a World War.

Across the nation military contracts were issued for private industries to help the war effort in whatever ways they could. And, Cleveland once again stepped up to do its part. The Hardwick Companies obtained contracts to produce blankets for the soldiers. The Cleveland Casket Company obtained a contract to provide caskets for soldiers that died in hospitals. The citizens and industry of Cleveland mobilized to do what they could for the war effort.

Black and White Picture of Clevelands Monument Dedication to the Second World War in 1948 in front o

(Dedication of Cleveland’s Monument to the Second World War in front of the Bradley County Courthouse, 1948)

Cleveland Today

Cleveland continued to grow throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, and as it grew it evolved into a city with something of interest to everyone. From large industrial manufacturing facilities, to small businesses, from colleges where teens can get a great start to assisted living facilities that help the elderly enjoy their retirement, from a bustling downtown to peaceful Appalachian forests Cleveland has something to offer all its citizens. But, one thing shared between all citizens is the spirit of community. Above all else this spirit of community has pushed Cleveland to prosper with each new generation and, that very spirit of community is what ensures a bright future ahead for Cleveland. 

Today, we have seen a new era begin in Cleveland’s history. Mayor Tom Rowland recently left office after serving the city of Cleveland for over two  decades. Mayor Rowland’s leadership was invaluable to Cleveland. He has now been honored as Mayor Emeritus of Cleveland, and was the namesake of the Mayor Tom Rowland interchange. A replication of Mayor Rowland’s office can be seen at the 5 Points Museum beginning --------. 

Kim Brooks Kevin Brooks Tom Rowland Sandra Rowland

(Mayor Tom Rowland adding the first signature on then-State Representative Brooks’ Nominating Petition for the 2018 Mayor’s Race)

In September of 2018 Mayor Rowland’s successor, Kevin Brooks, was elected. Under the leadership of Mayor Brooks the future of Cleveland looks brighter than ever. The relationships between the city government the public are flourishing, and Mayor Brooks has announced many ambitious projects for the future of the City of Cleveland.

The City Song

John Phillip Sousa first introduced the song "The Diplomat" at the Craigmiles Opera House in Cleveland, TN in 1906. Since that time it has been the City song.USS Tennessee

The USS Tennessee

USS Tennessee Submarine and both crews, red and blue, was adopted by the City of Cleveland, the only city in Tennessee to adopt its namesake, USS Tennessee.