Re-Visiting Red Clay: How an Inclusive Historical Interpretation May Encourage Tourism in Southeast Tennessee

This paper demonstrates how an inclusive park interpretation may enhance regional tourism.

Red Clay State Historic Park, established in 1979, was built with the intention of bringing tourists to the town of Cleveland, Tennessee, thirteen miles northwest of Red Clay. The Red Clay Council Ground was the site of the last Cherokee capital prior to their removal in 1838. For nearly 40 years the park has interpreted its history very narrowly, from 1832 to 1838, the years it was used as the Cherokee seat of government, however new research has broadened the scope of the park’s interpretation.

Currently, the park hosts 200,000 visitors each year. The park will soon expand its interpretation to cover the site’s enslaved African and African American histories, the Civil War history of the park, the historical significance of the railroad which runs along the park’s border, as well as the agricultural history of the area. This more inclusive interpretation is expected to bring local visitors back for new experiences, while drawing new tourists from further afield.

Since Red Clay State Historic Park is in a rural area, the city of Cleveland, with its distinct charm and history, is the closest place for out-of-town guests to eat or rent a room. Cleveland will continue to gain the benefits of being close to Red Clay while incurring few disadvantages of being near a tourist site.