The compelling history of Cherokee County is on display with the opening of a new state-of-the-art history center and museum in downtown Canton.
The Cherokee County History Center, open to the public on November 5, brings to life the rich history of the area, from prehistoric times to the present day. A 4.5-million-dollar renovation and expansion project funded through a capital campaign transformed the former city police station into the compelling space. Along with the informative museum, the 11,000-square-foot facility includes a research library, educational facilities, and archives for History Cherokee’s expansive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs.
History Cherokee Executive Director Stefanie Joyner explains, “History Cherokee designed the History Center to be a resource for the community. It will be a place for all generations to explore Cherokee County’s history, find preservation resources, and participate in diverse programming. The History Center is a cultural asset, improving the quality of life for Cherokee County residents and visitors.”
Walk Through Time
The museum includes the Main Hall, where visitors are greeted with a video of highlights of Cherokee County’s history, and six galleries with in-depth information from each era in its history featuring compelling exhibits, interactive displays, and captivating artifacts. Each gallery opens off the Main Hall, and the galleries are also connected to allow visitors to walk from one to the next in sequential order.
“The new Cherokee County History Center’s exhibits are in chronological order so that visitors can easily trace our county’s history from prehistoric times to the present. It will also make it convenient for them to find certain time periods they may be interested in,” explains Kaylee Johnson, History Cherokee exhibits and collections manager.
Highlights of the History Center include the Native American artifacts exhibit, an 1890s wagon used by the Jones Mercantile company, two theaters playing vintage videos and a documentary, and a race car simulator of Dixie Speedway. Kaylee offers, “There are also electronic touchscreens through the museum to dive a little deeper into the exhibits.”
The archaeology objects on display in the new History Center largely come from a collection donated by Lamar and Mary Fowler Holcomb, according to Kaylee. This collection contains a significant number of artifacts from the Long Swamp archaeology site in Ball Ground.
“The collection is unusual in its scope, containing several pottery bowls and jars, earspools, pipes, carved pottery figurine fragments, beads, and many other items. It is very rare to have such a large and diverse group of objects from a single site. Displaying these artifacts allows the historical society to share thousands of years of different Native American cultures in Cherokee County,” Kaylee points out.
Gallery One includes the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods of local history, as well as the Muscogee/Creek peoples and Cherokee peoples. The gallery, which covers Cherokee County’s history reaching back 13,000 years and up through the 1830s, also has information about the Cherokee removal and the discovery of gold in the county.
Gallery Two picks up with the year 1828 and continues to 1879, presenting information about the earliest European settlers, the years of the Civil War, emancipation, and the Reconstruction years that followed.
Visitors to Gallery Three will learn about the late nineteenth century in Cherokee County, an era that brought growth and revitalization to the county and its towns. The arrival of the railroad system opened the county to increased commerce, and construction of mills helped establish the county’s place as an industrial asset. The era was also marked by racial tensions and the emergence of moonshine, which became a booming business in the county during the Prohibition years.
Gallery Four begins with the Great Depression in the 1930s and continues through the years of World War II and the economic recovery that followed, including the poultry industry, where Cherokee County emerged as a leader in the thriving business of the 1950s and 1960s. Visitors to Gallery Four will also learn about the impact Allatoona Lake has on Cherokee County and the changes in schools, medicine, and communications that impacted the era.
Gallery Five takes visitors through the 1980s to present times, as Cherokee County emerges as a part of the metro Atlanta region with the construction of Interstate 575, a new airport, and exploding growth in population. The gallery also offers educational information on the importance and means of preserving local history. The sixth gallery will present changing exhibits and information about the history of the community.
The Cherokee History Center will be a significant educational asset to the community, and Education Manager Harvee White is prepared for people of all ages who want to learn more about the diverse history of Cherokee County. “At the History Center we’ve tried to make history and learning accessible. If you’re wanting to roll up your sleeves and do some heavy research, you can come and use our research library. If you’re wanting something educational but fun to do on a family day or first date, walking through our galleries is perfect. My hope is that even people who don’t love history as much as we do can visit, have a great time, and learn something in the process,” Harvee explains.
The new History Center will also be a resource for Cherokee County schools and students, Harvee points out. “We will be offering field trips. Specifics will be coming soon, but schools can expect the museum experience at a discounted price, catered to the needs of their students,” she says. “Though we are a local history museum, we’ve made it a point to make sure we hit curriculum standards. If we don’t have something specific, teachers can work with me to create something that fits their needs.”
The education manager is also excited about all the History Center offers children. “There are so many different hands-on activities in the museum. Traditionally people think of museums as ‘no-touch zones’ where you have to keep your hands to yourself. We wanted children to feel welcome here, so we have a number of hands-on stations where they can touch replicas and learn through play. We’ll also be rolling out various programs made for children,” she promises.
A group of local volunteers interested in preserving the history of Cherokee County founded the Cherokee County Historical Society in 1975. In 2020 it rebranded itself to become History Cherokee, the sole organization in Cherokee County engaged in collecting, preserving, and interpreting all aspects of the county’s history.
History Cherokee is a private nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization governed by a board of directors. Until 2004 History Cherokee was a volunteer organization, but today it employs several museum professionals dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the region.
Something for Everyone
The Cherokee County History Center offers a visitors center, bookstore, and gift shop with books about local and area history as well as an extensive collection of gifts and merchandise.
In the research library the public can use History Cherokee’s archives to research local history, genealogy, and other topics. The research library is open to the public by appointment on Mondays and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Make an appointment by email at Collections@HistoryCherokee.org or call 770-345-3288 extension 3.
For more information on hours, admission, and ways to be active with the new Cherokee County History Center, visit HistoryCherokee.org. The History Center is located at 221 East Marietta Street in Canton.
Canton writer Rebecca Johnston is a Cherokee County native and graduate of Cherokee High School and the University of Georgia. Rebecca has won several Georgia Press Association awards for her writing, including the 2007 First Place Award for Serious Columnist. She currently writes for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine.