Nell Magruder: ‘Family history surrounds me’

Nell Magruder has a family history that stretches back into Canton’s earliest days, but she’s also interested in Canton’s future.

In this edited transcript of a conversation in April 2014, she talks about a childhood next to Main Street, the treasure trove of history inside the Grisham/Galt House and the importance for newcomers (and long-time residents) to learn about Canton’s past.

I grew up in one of the Putnam houses — the one on the corner of Archer and East Marietta streets, with the wraparound porch … I had friends who lived on Main Street. If you were invited, you went up to play with your friends and you walked everywhere. I walked to church, I walked to school.

Jones was there, Kessler’s was there. Downstairs at Kessler’s was the toy department. I can remember one of my great childhood disappointments: I wanted a pair of stilts that they had. They were red and they were wonderful looking. My parents said, “I don’t think they’re any good but if that’s how you want to spend your money, have at it.” And sure enough, they promptly warped out of shape. Until they were so splayed out, I could walk anywhere in those stilts!

My father had a hardware store, but I really wasn’t allowed to be there. Daddy didn’t think it was a good idea to have children playing around the business. He had been with Georgia Power but then he bought this hardware business, and I don’t think he ever retired. My brother took it over after he came back to Canton to live.

Your day was sort of divided by the mill whistle. There was a 5 o’clock mill whistle and I had to be home by then. …

I went to Canton High; we were not the last class but two behind before Cherokee High School opened [in 1956]. [High school life] was fabulous, just fabulous. It really was. You were just a friend to everybody. You knew everybody’s name, you talked to everybody. I learned way later on that we were called townies. I didn’t feel there was any difference, but evidently the county people did feel it. They referred to us amongst themselves as townies.

It was not handy to have a friend who lived out in the county because it wasn’t within easy walking distance. But I went to birthday parties there and things like that. But as far as afternoons after school, my best friend lived up on Main Street — George Doss’ daughter, Nancy. She and I have been friends from cradle to eventual grave, I’m sure. She lives in Arizona, but we still call each other on birthdays.

There was a difference among the mill villages. (There were three mill villages.) They went to North Canton and then eventually to Canton High. There was a difference there. Have you ever read Ray Pettit’s book? Ray was a genius if ever I knew one. It’s called “Mill Village Boy,” and Ray pays great tribute to my brother Odie because he was a playmate. He was Odie’s age and I was crazy about him, and he tells good stories about growing up in Canton. Both of his parents worked at the mill. I don’t believe I was ever invited to come and play with anyone in the mill village. ….

I realize that my parents were older than my contemporaries’ parents, but even then, they didn’t worry about us. I never had two healthy knees and two healthy elbows in my life. They were always scraped. It didn’t matter if you got hurt. This business of playground safety just sort of bores me. I do think we’ve been wussified. I think people are worrying about the wrong things. …

Mother shopped for groceries on Main Street in Canton — she could walk there and everybody could back then and did. But we shopped for clothes and house items outside Canton. We went to Atlanta all the time, more often than monthly. Atlanta was a big treat. I loved to go. You wore hat and gloves, dressed up.

Marietta was another destination — the Square. I remember the bakery. It was fabulous — you ate those doughnuts before you got home! I can remember a shop called Florence’s, a women’s shop. It was very upscale with pretty things. I think my aunts shopped there a lot. They also shopped in Chattanooga — they were big shoppers!

… I was exposed to a lot of places because of [my aunts]. It was like having two sets of parents so we’d have two vacations: one with our parents, and one with Martha and Frances. So we were taken places, we weren’t sent to camp. We saw Canada, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, and Daddy adored Miami — we went to Miami real often. He loved Florida. We didn’t go West of the Mississippi.

I didn’t realize it was so rare. I knew most of my friends didn’t travel that much because they didn’t have the means to. But when I got to college … I went to Hollins College, a women’s college in Virginia, and those girls were all prep school girls who had been away from home for four years for high school and had spent their summers away at fancy camps. I realized they’d never been anywhere. And I thought, isn’t this remarkable? It struck me then what a better life I had had than they had of just being gotten rid of. It really struck me that most of these girls from everywhere had never been anywhere.

[Canton friends] went to Daytona Beach and Gatlinburg for the mountains. Daddy would have nothing to do with Daytona Beach. I remember saying to my son later, “Please don’t think the world ends at the Cherokee County line. Get out there and see things.” …

I married and moved away. We moved to California — my husband was in the Marine Corps and he was stationed out there. That was a couple of years of adventure. Then we moved back to Memphis and expected to be there forever. But then he got a job with a company that promptly transferred us to Orlando. And we were in Orlando for almost five years and that’s where our son was born.

But to live in central Florida after being a North Georgia girl was just about a killer. I love Florida but you need to be on the coast or visit there, not live there. And I missed the seasons. My father pulled some strings and got my husband a job with Georgia Power and so damned if we didn’t go back to Canton. And we thought, we’ll probably live in Canton until he finds something in Atlanta but we found that [our son] Bill could grow up much the way I grew up. And you didn’t worry about him if he was over on his bicycle somewhere. I married in 1959 and came back in 1966 and not much had changed in Canton. It was still that delightful walk-y town.

My family history surrounded me. You heard the stories over and over and it eventually sinks in. Whether I wanted to learn or not! It was like an arm or a leg, it was just a part of you. I had a brother three years older than I. He and I listened to the same stories over and over and over. You were surrounded by it all the time. …

This house was built in 1841, but William Grisham had come here in 1832 with the Cherokee land lottery. And I think he had been somewhere on this property always, but finally added on to whatever house he was living in. …

And then he became clerk of everything because he wrote a beautiful hand. I really do think that’s what they wanted: the church wanted a clerk, they needed clerks at court, and he was eventually clerk of the Federal Mint in Dahlonega for a number of years from 1844-1848. … He’s very interested in money and I think that’s what brought him to Canton. The minerals brought him here. Because all the settlers of Canton – all the original ones were from one place in South Carolina — around the Greenville District and Pendleton District. All those codgers knew about minerals; they knew that the Indians had been mining gold for centuries, and they knew it was so rich in minerals. So they left that beautiful farmland and came to this rocky business where they couldn’t really raise good cotton. I’m convinced it was about minerals. … But I think they kept all that knowledge close to the vest. In other words, you might have owned 18 gold lots but you didn’t want people to know which ones were producing and which ones weren’t because you were dealing in land all the time.

So one of William Grisham’s daughters married a Galt — people call this the Galt House because the Grishams played out and he had girls and one boy who drank too much. William Grisham said this of him: “He was intemperate of spirits.” Isn’t that nice way to put it?

[My aunts] Martha Galt and Frances Galt lived here. They never married because no one ever really suited their mother (who was a Putnam). The Putnams were an old family who lived in the Sixes community and eventually moved to town. Now my nephew and his family live in that house that he built, which is right up the street. I think that was 1888 or something like that.

We moved into the house 30 years ago. I grew up in a Putnam house right up the street, and I was in this house about as much as I was in my own home. …

[Sunday dinners] were either here or at our house. Nobody had lots of children, so it was always a small group. And our cousins were not our contemporaries because my father married at age 40; I was born when Mother was 39. So our cousins were more like aunts and uncles. My grandmother died when I was 7 years old. Because my brother was three years older than me, he got a chance to talk to my grandmother more than I. She’s the only grandparent I ever knew. My mother’s parents were North Carolinians and she was the youngest of 10, so they weren’t even alive when she married. …

In 1957, my aunt had done a big re-do of the house and had gathered together all these family letters. She brought me all these letters and said, “You seem to be the only one who’s really interested in this so I want you to have them.” And I began to transcribe them — they’re very fragile. If you read people’s letters, you really do get to know them. All of the women could write, which was not usual in those days. And you could see how William Grisham was so meticulous. He was so temperance-minded and Baptist.

… I do have a cousin who is 10 years my senior who grew up listening to his grandmother, who was my grandfather’s sister. And his stories jibe with mine. Also, he had a cache of letters very much like I did. And as we would transcribe, we would swap letters so I have copies of most of his. His were destroyed a few years ago when the Chattahoochee flooded and part of his house was under 4 feet of water. …

My aunts would let us play in the attic as kids, and I would open a big box sometimes and the silverfish would scatter. All you saw was the top layer and it was old newspapers and that wasn’t interesting to us at the time. Later, my husband catalogued the enormous newspaper collection in the attic. He had to do it in the winter because you can’t be up there during the summer, and it’s 4,600 pieces of newspapers. They’ve been up there the whole time. A lot of the newspapers are the only known copies to exist. [William Grisham and relatives collected newspapers dating back to the early 1800s. They are now donated to the Atlanta History Center.]

We found William Grisham’s diary of building this house among those things. He had a habit of binding newspapers and journals together, and he subscribed to something called the Agriculturist, which was a Nashville publication, I believe — because he was a farmer, too, you know. He was always looking for: Why do his bees have mites? [Laughs] So there were some copies of the Agriculturist bound together and he would sometimes put a paper binding on some of them and then sew them together. It meant something to him and he would do a table of contents for some of them. So you see what a meticulous person he was. …

My father grew up in this house and, of course, my two aunts. The facade on the front has gone from Georgian plain style to Victorian to the Greek Revival. So the house has evolved. …

The first night I spent as the owner of this house, I was lying in the bathtub looking out the window and it happened to be a full moon, and I thought: [Great-great-grandfather] William Grisham never got to see this, he never got to lie in a tub. If he bathed, it was probably in the kitchen in a washtub.

After the Depression, Woodstock was a bit of a ghost town and now it’s the big city. And Canton strives to be “as good as” Woodstock, but I think, “Please God, no!” Let’s not hold them up as what to do for Canton. Their growth has just been insane. …

Really, it would help anybody who’s lived here less than 10 years or 20, to be taken on a tour of Canton so you really know the history behind Canton.

Posted in 1950-1959, Daily life, First person Tagged with: , ,
12 comments on “Nell Magruder: ‘Family history surrounds me’
  1. Kelly D says:

    That’s the Canton I wish I had grown up in! It’s unfortunate it’s no longer like that.

    • Canton Rewind says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kelly.

      • Kelly D says:

        I’m enjoying seeing how Canton was, why back when. I moved away a few years ago and have been really missing the old Canton (pre-Riverstone and the Hwy 20 mess.)

        Keep up the great work!

  2. Kathy Dunn says:

    Oh how I loved reading this! I am one of the country girls but I went to Canton Elementary in town and then Cherokee High, graduating in 1967. I do love history and love reading about things that took place before I was born. Thank you, Mrs. Magruder, for writing this.

  3. peggy sosebee bickley says:

    Nell,I loved reading your family history and growing up in Canton. I thought about us dressing up in Brown park at the monument in your aunts beautiful dresses.We had a good time. Peg

  4. Nell Galt Magruder says:

    This was a verbal interview, and I am sorry I wasn’t given the opportunity to proofread the final article. I don’t remember the interviewer, but his/her grammar and punctuation differ greatly from mine. I graduated with an AB in English, and I try to be careful to use correct grammar in any instance. Please know that this article is not a good example for a careful grammarian. The content is fairly faithful to the interview, but the final written presentation is far below my standard. I am not being disdainful; rather, I am trying to comfort all those English teachers (and especially my mother) who doubtless are spinning in their graves. The ultimate message is true: Canton was a fine place in which to grow up! OOOPS! I ended with a preposition! Nell Magruder

  5. Judy Galt says:

    Delighted to read this! As a direct descendant of Jabez Galt I’m always looking for Galt family information, history, pictures, and family stories. I’m called the Jabez Galt family historian and have notebooks filled with information. I’m Always looking to add contacts and information! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

  6. Nance Raines Haney says:

    Nell, loved the article.
    I will be sure and share it with Patsy Steves.
    I think of you and all your family very often. Please tell Carolyn and her family hello for me.
    I have so many memories of Canton and all the people.
    We are very fortunate people.

  7. Jan Galt says:

    Nell, I enjoyed reading this article. We need to catch up sometime on the family history!
    Jan (daughter of Jabez William Galt, Marietta)

  8. Betty Lynn Dozier says:

    I loved reading this information about Canton. My grandmother was Ella Galt Howard. My aunt, Melinda Galt, lived on Main Street in Canton. I visited for the summer in 1962. I loved the fact that people walked everywhere. I remember going to the ice cream shop just down the street from Aunt Lynn’s house. Aunt Lynn’s house was a large victorian style house with a wrap around porch. I think the library was close by if I remember correctly. As a young person the house seemed so large. I remember visiting Frances and Martha while I was there. My mother was Elizabeth Teasley Howard.

    I am not sure if you knew John Teasley but he visited our family in Nashville on several occasions. I would love to know more about Canton!

  9. Steve Padgett says:

    I also grew up in Canton. I have some wonderful memories of my childhood. I have always been fascinated by the old house. The things it must have witnessed.

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