Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blythe Ferry Trail of Tears historic site near Dayton, Tennessee

The Cherokee Removal Memorial at Blythe Ferry is not far from Dayton, Tennessee. Beginning in September 1838, the forced removal of the Cherokee began. Almost 10,000 Cherokee in nine detachments were moved through Blythe Ferry on the way to parts west. Many of these people would perish on their westward journey.

As this map indicates, Cherokee Removal Memorial Park is tucked away near Dayton and is close to the confluence of the Tennessee and the Hiwassee Rivers. To get there, we took I-75 exit 27 and turned right onto Hwy. 60. The road winds and twists but Blythe Ferry is about 10 miles ahead. We saw the sign pretty clearly as we drew near to the entrance.

The Blythe Ferry site is on the shore of the Hiwassee River. The warm weather and nearly cloudless sky were ideal for a visit to the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park but, there was one disappointment. The visitor center was closed.
The park itself is open daily but the visitor center is only open on Wednesday - Friday from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. Next time, we will plan our visit to coincide with the operating hours. In the meantime we walked among the displays at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park. Even with the disappointment, I felt that the visit was still worth our time.

The Interpretive displays are what make after-hours visits interesting. I learned a good deal about the Trail of Tears through reading the plaques. The relocation was not a proud moment for U.S. history. Standing in the footsteps of history was humbling.

After reading the displays, my attention turned to the large granite wall that moves visitors through the park. Part of it contains a map of the Trail of Tears where Blythe Ferry is prominently marked. Off to the side is the visitor center, where large star symbol is emblazoned on the concrete beneath your feet.

At the time the Trail of Tears began, the owner of Blythe Ferry was William Blythe. He was part Cherokee and also had some European ancestry. He continued the operation until approximately 1840 when he too, was forced to Oklahoma.

The history of site doesn't end there. Confederate troops guarded the location and 1863, it saw action in a Civil War skirmish. Operations continued until Blythe Ferry was replaced by a bridge in 1994. In terms of the Cherokee Nation who walked the the Trail of Tears, Blythe Ferry is hailed as possibly the most important landmark of the removal.

We spent about a hour visiting but would have stayed longer if the center had been open. It is on the National Register of Historic places and is a good stop for those who are interested in Cherokee or Tennessee history.

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