A stroll down East Main Street in Canton reveals a beautiful small town brimming with historic buildings, a plethora of outstanding restaurants, and lovely shops to browse.

Having lived here all my life, that my hometown is one of the most charming small towns in Georgia is no surprise to me. I think, as the city has been revitalized in recent years, most people would agree with me.

But when Canton came in second on the official list of the top 12 most charming towns in the state of Georgia on travel list website Touropia, the honor made it official.

Canton beat out such popular spots as Blue Ridge, Dahlonega, Madison and Blairsville. And as our Mayor Bill Grant points out, the best is yet to come.

I think he and I agree that we should have been first, and that we are on our way there.

Our history and our beautiful natural setting help add up to a lovely town to live in and visit, the website points out in making the designation.

“Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Canton is located in what was known for a long time as the heart of Cherokee territory. This all changed when European-American settlers moved into the area following the beginning of the Georgia Gold Rush,” it states.

Historic buildings like the 1911 Canton Theatre and the old marble Cherokee County Courthouse dating back to 1928, add to the charm, according to the website.

But I find it especially interesting that the website points out the Etowah River as one of the most important features of the town.

For too long our setting on the Etowah River was ignored, but now, with the beautiful Etowah River Park and the renovation of the old Canton Cotton Mill into the Mill on Etowah, one of our most beautiful and unique aspects is coming to the forefront of our city.

The Etowah River stretches 164 miles through mountains and valleys, from Dahlonega to Rome, where it meets the Oostanaula River and forms the Coosa River.

Yet it is in a mile-wide curve on the Etowah in the middle of Cherokee County that the early settlement that became Canton was established.

The land was in the heart of the Cherokee Nation territory wrested from the Cherokee Native Americans by the federal government to make way for expansion by the white settlers.

And while the beauty and practicality of the location for the town was obviously apparent to those settlers, it had for thousands of years been home to those who made their home here before the Europeans “discovered” America for all the same reasons.

On Dec. 24, 1833, the town was chartered by the state of Georgia as Etowah, but a year later the name was changed to Canton.

It is notable to me that the earliest name chosen was the name of the river, and that Etowah is derived from a Cherokee word, possibly Itawa.

Canton quickly became a center of agriculture, commerce and education, with a school and a church established in 1833.

Our little town has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. During the Civil War, the town was mostly burned by federal troops under the direction of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

But Canton survived and was rebuilt, and by the 1870s with the coming of the railroad, a new era of growth and prosperity began.

In the late 1880s, Canton developed as a summer resort area, with a number of hotels dotting downtown and enticing summer guests to enjoy the beauty of the area.

The 1920s, in those roaring times leading up to the Great Depression, Canton saw a new expansion, with many of the great historic buildings that still stand constructed.

The most beautiful is the white marble courthouse, which has even been featured in a major Hollywood movie, gracing the square in Canton, a lovely reminder of our heritage as a marble finishing center.

We have so much history to celebrate, but it is the present that offers that glimpse that the best is yet to come.

Through wise decisions by our elected leaders in the last decades, Canton is now in an enviable position as a charming, livable, forward thinking center for residents of all ages.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, Canton is welcoming new restaurants, companies and businesses to its center, a feat our leaders should rightfully take pride in.

Perhaps our greatest quality, though, has always and continues to be our friendly, caring residents, who are welcoming to newcomers and helpful and supportive of all.

It does not take a travel site to tell me how great Canton is, but it is nice to know that others are seeing what I see – Canton is the best place to live imaginable and we are lucky to call it home.

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Rebecca Johnston is a native of Cherokee County and a retired managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune

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