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The History Behind Canton, Georgia

Canton, Georgia, is a small town with a very rich history. It’s located just 4o miles northeast of Atlanta at the southern end of the Blue Ridge mountains. The Etowah River flows through the center of town.

A Shameful Start

The city had a shameful start because it was built on land that was stolen from the Cherokee Nation. For almost 100 years after Georgia was colonized, pioneers avoided the northern part of the state as they journeyed west, leaving the Cherokee to live as they had for centuries. Then, in 1828, gold was discovered on the land. White settlers claimed the land for themselves and forced the Cherokee to leave. Those who didn’t leave on their own were removed by federal troops.

What’s in a Name?

The town was first called Cherokee Court House, but by 1832, the year it was incorporated, it became Etowah, the name derived from the Muskogee word meaning “town.” In 1834, it was renamed after the Chinese city of Canton (now Guangzhou), because citizens hoped the Georgia town would also become known for its silk production. Early residents of Canton planted mulberry trees and brought 100,000 silkworms to the area, hoping the climate there would be suitable to sustain them. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

The Civil War

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the citizens of Canton allowed Confederate soldiers to use the town for supplies and a place to rest. Because of this, Union General William T. Sherman, on his march through Georgia in 1864, ordered Canton burned to the ground. More than half of the buildings in the city were destroyed.

Building the Railroad

In 1870, the Marietta and North Georgia Railway came to town bringing daily mail delivery as well as many big changes to the city. By the time four years had passed, the city had grown to include 13 stores, two flour mills, a sawmill, and numerous other businesses. In addition, the railroad allowed manufacturers to ship cotton and marble produced in the area to other parts of the state.

Cotton Mill Fame

Though Canton was never known for silk, it became a top cotton producer. In 1899, prominent community leaders raised money to build a cotton mill. By 1901, Canton Cotton Mills was producing cotton thread; by 1902 it began producing denim as well. Canton denim became famous nationwide, and in 1923, the company built a second mill, transforming the area into an industrial hub and bringing prosperity to the town. The mills stayed in business until the early 1980s. The dairy and poultry industries became important to the area as well.

The 21st century has brought big changes to the small town. Its population has quadrupled in the past 20 years; now, more than 30,000 people now call Canton home. It is the county seat of Cherokee County and is known as the center of finance, business, and healthcare in the region.

In June 2020, the county announced plans for the construction of an educational garden and orchard to be built at Cherokee Veterans Park in Canton. When finished, it will include a small fruit orchard, berry bushes, wildflowers, Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible garden beds, and a teaching pavilion.

Hollywood Spotlight

It’s not unusual to see movie crews in town, as more and more big Hollywood projects are shot here. For instance, the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures” contained scenes shot in downtown Canton and at the city’s historic elementary school.

A Great Place to Live and to Retire

These days, Canton is known as a welcoming community with great schools, a low crime rate, beautiful parks, and some of the lowest taxes in the state. Seniors have discovered it’s a great place to retire, with the slow pace of a small town but close proximity to the conveniences of a big city. In the past few years, more senior living communities, like The Arbor at BridgeMill, have been built in and around Canton.

If you’d like to find out more about the history of Canton, visit the Cherokee County History Museum and Visitors Center on Marietta Street. If you’d like to find out more about senior living options here, call The Arbor at BridgeMill at 770-691-0022.


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Brooke Figueras

About the Author: Brooke Figueras

Brooke’s passion for serving seniors began upon graduating from the University of Georgia in 2003. She moved to Canton with her family to join The Arbor Company in 2017 and couldn’t be happier.

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