William Grisham, one of the earliest pioneers to settle in Cherokee County, is credited with founding the town of Canton and helping establish it as the county seat.

William Grisham

Photo Courtesy of Nell Galt Magruder

Gallery Two of the Cherokee County History Center is named the Grisham-Galt-Magruder Gallery in honor of Grisham and his descendants, including the Galt family and Nell Galt Magruder and her husband, Will Magruder, who continue to live in the home Grisham established in Canton in 1841. Grisham is Nell’s great-great-grandfather.

Originally from South Carolina, William and his wife, Susan Bradford Grisham, were living in Decatur when he won a plot of land in the 1832 Land Lottery in Cherokee County. Soon after, he and his wife moved to the settlement known at the time as Cherokee Courthouse.

When the town was incorporated under the name Etowah on December 24, 1833, William was instrumental in seeing it was chosen as the county seat. The name was changed to Canton on December 18, 1834, and William, the town’s first postmaster, sent the new name to the postal service.

According to Nell Galt Magruder, her great-great-grandfather chose carefully where he planned to settle, perusing the land lot booklet and settling on Cherokee County because of its rich natural resources and location. William purchased other land lots and had control of about a dozen gold parcels. He controlled and owned thousands of acres in Cherokee County and surrounding counties during his lifetime. He was instrumental in establishing the First Baptist Church in Canton and was clerk of the court system in the county. He was also clerk of the mint in Dahlonega.

A farmer, William owned a massive piece of land near the Etowah River where Oakdale Community is today. One of the crops he raised was rice. 

Grisham-Galt-Magruder house

Photo Courtesy of Nell Galt Magruder

The Grisham-Galt house is believed to be the oldest standing home in downtown Canton. William had lived in Canton for nine years when he built the two-story home in Georgian style, a style marked by symmetry and proportion based on the classical architecture of Greece and Rome. The home even had a silk room where Grisham kept silkworms and attempted to produce silk.

Because the owners displayed a Masonic symbol to the Union soldiers, Sherman’s troops spared the house in 1864 when they burned most of Canton during the Civil War. 

In 1844 William and Susan Grisham’s daughter, Malinda Caroline, married Joel Galt, a member of another prominent family among the early settlers. The Galt family owned a hardware store in Canton. Their son, William, married Lecy Putnam, daughter of the first mayor of Canton, Odian Putnam, consolidating two of the town’s leading families.

Lecy Putnam-Galt

Photo Courtesy of Nell Galt Magruder

Nell is the granddaughter of Lecy Putnam and William Galt, and she grew up in the Victorian home Odian Putnam built in 1888. She attended Canton High School and Hollins College, where she graduated in 1958 with a degree in English. Shortly after graduation she met and married her husband, Will “Bill” Magruder, originally from Memphis, where the couple first made their home. They eventually returned to Canton and Bill took a position with Georgia Power Company.

Nell and Bill are active with the Georgia Trust for Historical Preservation, to which she and her husband donated their collection of more than 4,600 newspapers. She is also active with History Cherokee and the Cherokee County Historical Society. She served on the Canton Downtown Development Authority, and her brother, Odie Galt, was mayor of Canton. Nell chaired the elaborate Canton Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1983, which featured a concert, exhibits about the city’s history, and dignitaries from throughout the state.

In addition to information about early settlers such as William Grisham and land lotteries, the Grisham-Galt-Magruder Gallery has exhibits and information about gold and mining in Cherokee County; the Civil War years, including their effects on the county; and slave emancipation and Reconstruction following the war.


The Cherokee County History Center is open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m.

Located at 221 East Marietta Street in Canton, History Cherokee provides free parking for guests. There is also a free public-use parking garage across from the History Center at 200 West Marietta Street.

Admission to the museum is $9 for adults and $7 for children ages five to fourteen as well as seniors over sixty-five. Admission for children under the age of four is free. All History Cherokee members also receive free admission.

For more information visit HistoryCherokee.org.




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