Three years ago, I woke up to a post, made by a friend from my childhood. It was a simple line from a song, a song made famous by Joni Mitchell, back when this friend and I were in elementary school. Her post read, “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” Along with that ominous sentence, she shared a link to our hometown newspaper. If the article in the Cherokee Tribune was true, and I had no reason to doubt that it was, we were about to lose a big piece of our childhood history. Our town was about to lose two beautiful works of architectural art. Our wonderful old school building, (most of us called it “the school house” back then, because that’s what our parents and grandparents called it…) had a date with a demolition ball. That graceful lady of a building, was sitting square in the eye of a sniper’s scope. The old Canton Textile Mill Office building (built by the family of our hometown golfer, Bobby Jones… you know him, the one of Augusta National fame), was also going to see the wrecking ball. The two buildings would be replaced, according to the artist’s depiction in the Tribune article, with a parking lot, and a blocked-style, modern building. The replacement building looked very similar to a large CVS or a Walgreen’s Pharmacy.
Privately, I contacted my school friend and inquired of the details. She shared with me some of what she couldn’t share publicly. Yes, it was true, the building was going. The fate was almost certain. She knew, because she was an employee of the Cherokee County School System, and they were the entity responsible for the future paving of Paradise. It was all but a “done deal”.
The news hit me hard. It was akin to knowing in advance, that a loved one was going to be in a fatal fight, but unable to reach them. Incapable of stopping the oncoming slaughter.
I had spent all my elementary years at Canton Elementary School. I was a Canton Greenie to the bone. We all were. We didn’t really know what a Greenie was, but we knew it was us. The What of a Greenie just didn’t matter. We wore the Green & Gold proudly, even as, often enough, kids from other schools, those with tougher sounding mascots, poked fun at us. Sometimes they were kinder, genuinely curious, and phrased a conversation starter with the inevitable question: “So, what is a Greenie, anyway?” The CES girls usually responded with a shoulder shrug. The boys generally had a different answer, “That’s for us to know and you to find out!”
One year, probably in an attempt to stall the “what is a Greenie” question, the cheerleaders dressed six-year-old Patrick Bishop in a Greenie get-up, and called him Canton’s Mascot. He looked like an Irish Leprechaun in the costume. But he put a brave and adorable face to the Greenie. To this day, he is the Greenie I see in my memory.
We were the Canton Greenies.
All the others were the…
- Woodstock Wildcats
- Holly Springs Wildcats
- Macedonia Wildcats
- Hickory Flat Devils (Green Devils)
- Buffington Blue Devils
- Clayton Rebels
- Free Home Rockets
- Ball Ground Indians/Braves
- North Canton Tigers
- R.M. Moore Braves
- Ralph Bunche
And in that old Canton Gym, our boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, at one time or another, showed all the others, what it meant to be a Greenie. Even if we couldn’t tell them.
Once we made it to Cherokee High School though, we were all Warriors. Everyone of us. Until the late 1970’s, Cherokee was the only 9th-12th grade school in the county. And at some time in their lives, almost every CHS Warrior had walked the grounds of Canton Elementary. They may have attended one of the other schools, but they had sat on the iron and wood Merry-Go-Round, eating ice-cream, or drinking a Lime Freeze from Landers or Canton Drug, while their mama shopped downtown. They had played, cheered, and attended a basketball game or a Fall Carnival, in the old gymnasium. They had eaten fund-raiser chicken dinner plates, and the best Yeast Rolls in the world, all made by “the lunchroom ladies”, in the school’s cafeteria.
Without doubt, the old Canton Elementary building, and her red clay grounds, held memories for most of us.
And so it was, that Greenies and Tigers, Blue Devils and Wildcats, Rockets and more…. all Warriors, took to the streets of Social Media in a March to Save Our School, save our history….our cotton mill, poultry grower, foothills history…. our childhood school home. Our Classic, Southern, Neoclassical Beauty of a building.
Randy Saxon talked to everyone about our fight. I wrote a blog article and called news agencies. Others shared the story of our impending loss. Soon, Canton Alum, locally and from other parts of the world, began joining our fight. Historians took notice. Meetings were called. Words were spoken. Prayers were said.
Outwardly, the situation appeared hopeless. My son, usually optimistic in his support of my endeavors, attempted to prepare me for the worst. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to save it, Mom. But you can say you’ve tried. You’ve all tried. You’ve done your best.”
We didn’t give up. We came together as a community, even though many of us no longer live in Cherokee County. Randy Saxon was not about to give in without a battle. His mother had led a fight to save the old Canton High School (Building #2, or the Big Building, as we called it when we were elementary students), and he was determined to carry the legacy.
To be clear, our group’s effort wasn’t simply to save our school building. We wished to preserve the historical integrity of downtown Canton. And we did.
Soon enough, you, and we, will be able to shop and dine where little feet used to scurry about. The memory triggering fragrance of old books won’t be there, the dust of chalk will not be visible. But I hope to see some remnants hanging about, in honor of the educators and students who loved their time there.
Principal Shault Coker’s wooden paddle, though it terrified me when I was a first grader…. I would love to see it on display in the hallway, near where his old office was located.
Recently, I commented to Randy, “and to think we could have had a modern building and a parking lot there instead.” He replied, “Yes, I guess we’ll have to put up with this old thing for another hundred years or so”.
Yes, we will Randy. Because of your hard work and love for your hometown, we will. Thank you for your diligent work and outstanding progress. You’ve been the force behind the preservation.
For those unfamiliar, below is a link to the article I wrote in 2015.
I’m also including photos I’ve snagged from Randy’s Facebook page. And a video he posted today, it shows the progress being made on the school.
I’m also including a couple of photos of that Greenie I mentioned.
Bully in the School Yard