Located in southeast Tennessee, Bradley County was carved out of the Ocoee District, which had been part of the Cherokee Nation. Today, one of the top tourist sites in Tennessee is Red Clay State Historical Area, an interpretative center for the Cherokee removal known as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokees consider the park, located on the southern end of Bradley County, sacred ground. In the 1830s Red Clay became the last capital of the Cherokees as they fought removal by appealing to the U.S. president and Congress and bringing suits in the federal courts. Further north is Rattlesnake Springs, the gathering point for the Cherokees as they left on their journey to Oklahoma. The Cleveland Public Library Historical Branch contains a collection of material on the Cherokee Indians.
The Tennessee General Assembly created Bradley County in February 1836. Its name honored Colonel Edward Bradley, a Revolutionary War veteran who served with Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. Cleveland was designated the county seat and named for Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, a Revolutionary War hero from North Carolina who received recognition for his exploits at the battle of Kings Mountain. Today, Cleveland ranks eleventh in size among cities and towns in Tennessee.
Bradley County contains several other towns and communities, although the expanding size and economic domination of Cleveland has reduced the identity of some of them. The most notable is Charleston, located on the banks of the Hiwassee River. In 1819 Charleston, the “gateway to Indian country,” provided the site for the Cherokee Agency, or Hiwassee Agency, which was the home of U.S. Agents of Cherokee Affairs. Among the men who served as Cherokee agents were a number of notable Tennesseans including Return Jonathan Meigs, Hugh Montgomery, and Joseph McMinn. In addition, Lewis Ross, brother of the Cherokee Chief John Ross, established a store at the agency, which remained in operation until the removal in 1838.
Today, Charleston is the home of Bowaters, a large paper mill, and Olin Chemical, which manufactures swimming pool products. The community has a post office, an elementary school, and a high school. Although small in size, Charleston remains a vital link to Bradley County's past and provides resources and employment for the future. Other Bradley County communities include Black Fox, Blue Springs, Buck's Pocket, Chatata Valley, Eureka, Flint Springs, Georgetown, Hopewell, McDonald, Prospect, Tasso, Taylors, Valley View, and White Oak.
Bradley County boasts a thriving and diversified economy, with over 190 industries including eleven Fortune 500 companies and another five listed in the “Top 1000.” The largest manufacturing segment is in the production of stoves. Magic Chef, Hardwick, and Brown Stove dominated production until recently, when Maytag took over the local manufacturing; it is now the largest employer in Bradley County. A dynamic retail industry serves more than 150,000 shoppers. In addition, small retail and service businesses continue to grow and prosper. Finally, tourism represents a growing industry in Bradley County, as travelers visit historical and recreational sites. The county in 1999-2000 established the Museum Center at Five Points to complement this increasing tourist activity. In 2001 the historic Hardwick Woolen Mills was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is being restored as a community center and retail complex.
Education has always played an important role in Bradley County. In 1920 the county had six high schools and fifty-three elementary schools. Both the Bradley County and Cleveland City School systems have received recognition for the outstanding work of students and teachers. Many students continue their education in one of two local colleges. Lee University, one of the fastest growing Christian schools in the United States, has established a commendable academic reputation, producing a number of medical doctors, teachers, and ministers. Cleveland State Community College is a two-year college that operates under the supervision of the Tennessee Board of Regents. It offers outstanding programs in criminal justice and nursing.
Religion has played an important role in Bradley County's history. Three denominations maintain their headquarters in the county: the Church of God, the Church of God of Prophecy, and the Church of God Jerusalem Acres. The Church of God is the third largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, behind the Church of God in Christ and the Assembly of God.
Bradley County lives up the to state's moniker the “Volunteer State,” and a number of men and women have served with distinction in the military conflicts of the nation. Soldiers from Bradley County fought on both sides of the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln considered taking and holding the railroad near Cleveland a key to victory in the western theater. The bridge at Charleston was burned several times during the course of the war. Paul Huff, a hometown hero born and raised in Bradley County, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II.
Nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Bradley County is an ideal place to live, work, and play. With a low tax rate, a high employment rate, and proximity to a major metropolitan area, the county offers opportunities for growth and expansion. Its 2000 population was 87,965. A seasonal climate, access to most transportation systems, and a diversified economy of industry, commerce, and agriculture contribute to the progressive atmosphere of Bradley County.