One of the oldest houses in Cherokee County was built in 1865 along the Etowah River. Actually, it was re-built after the house on that location burned, by utilizing hand-made kiln-dried bricks. The clay for the bricks came from the Etowah River. The house faced the river, and hundreds of acres of farmland surrounded it. A barn was built near the house, and there were slave quarters also dotting the area. The slaves were called “helpers” by the Keith family, and they were said to be very dedicated to the family. The Keith Cemetery was a few acres back, away from the river set upon a quiet hill with peaceful trees surrounding it. I’m sure the Keith family during their times of prosperity never suspected the horrific and depressing events that would occur over time, feeding future tales of hauntings, curses, and mysterious events.
The Keith Plantation had a lot of historical events occur on the property. A portion of that occurred during the Civil War. The family had to hide food and valuables from the Union soldiers, but the soldiers unfortunately uncovered the plot when they found food hidden in the trees. The angry soldiers set the house on fire, and they dragged the owner of the plantation to a tree and hanged him – leaving him to die. Despite their efforts, its owner was saved. The knot in the rope was caught somehow on the tree, and this prevented him from breaking his neck. The slaves stepped in to cut him out of the tree, and they also assisted with rebuilding the house, even after the Civil War was finished. After the Civil War ended, the Keith family parceled out land to their slaves, which eventually became known as Keithsburg. Their family name became tied to the surrounding area that they used to own, which included the Pearidge and Nineteen Communities.
It is easy to imagine how beautiful the area was at one time, with pristine landscapes, farm animals plodding along, and people set to various tasks to keep the homestead going. Today, that landscape has vastly changed. The acreage has reduced from hundreds of acres to only 10 acres. The house and barn is slowly being overcome by kudzu and general neglect, after another fire occurred around the 1980’s. The road to the house has been blocked with “No Trespassing” signs clearly displayed on a downed tree, which is now covered with more kudzu. The road itself is being absorbed back into its surroundings of vegetation. No other buildings or anything else can be found on the property (old slave quarters were completely taken over by kudzu), and the Keith Cemetery is located across the street from Walmart in Canton. It has a fence surrounding it, and a large black double gate, each adorned with a circled “K”. It seems strange to see this historical cemetery right beside a busy Waffle House, cars zipping by it on Highway 5 to get to the entrance ramps of I-575.
Many different people, some related to the Keith’s, and historical societies have tried without success to relocate the house or find some way to save it. The Keith family sold off the property in the 1930’s when the economic downturns of the Great Depression impacted them. The York family purchased the property from the Keith family, and the road was re-named to York Drive. It has changed hands several times since then, and it even was offered to developers in 2006. They did not move forward with that offer, and the house stands in ruins. The Cherokee County Historical Society did say that since the house had been so heavily modified and went through another fire, they did not believe there was “enough material left to preserve”. They mentioned also that family members requested they not list it as a historic site on their roster, but the historical society would love to build a park along the river on that site one day if it becomes an option for them to do so.
The Etowah River is popular place to go fishing, even at night. Some fishermen target the river very near the Keith House as a good spot for catching catfish. There have been reports of strange lights at night around the Keith Plantation and coming from the windows, as if someone was moving around inside the abandoned house. Prior to the road being blocked off, a ghost hunter heard about this story and decided to investigate further. It was reported that an EVP was captured, which stated, “I’m trapped.” Is a member of the Keith family or one of their “helpers” still around? No one can say for sure.
Another historical fact of interest related to Cherokee County, and specifically to the Keith Plantation, was that the area had previously been one of the largest Native American settlements in the region for over 10,000 years. This was until the Trail of Tears, when they were forced out of the area in 1838 by soldiers, 1,400 Cherokee from Sixes and Fort Buffington in Cherokee County joined over 15,000 already traveling on that route. 4,000 did not make it to their new “home” out west.
Native American burial grounds were found on the Keith property in the 1940’s under a large rock and were moved to Reinhardt College in Waleska, to the Funk Heritage Center on their campus. There is said to be other burial mounds that were left on the property, which are still there to this day. Before the Keith Plantation was blocked from visitors, people were finding bits of pottery and arrow heads here and there on the property. Additionally, the Walmart that is off Riverstone Parkway on Keith Drive (originally part of Keith Plantation), sits on property that used to be called the Hickory Log Village. The Garden Center is said to be the spot where a Native American fort used to be approximately 1,000 years ago. A trading post and village were also part of this large settlement that overlooked the Etowah River. In 1995, the whole area was excavated by archaeologists in order to remove these artifacts prior to building the new store. There were 48 graves and thousands of artifacts that were discovered, which filled 120 boxes. The full skeleton of a little girl, buried with her toys and personal items, was a part of this find. The artifacts and remains were eventually re-buried in Canton, GA, with a full ceremony overseen by Cherokee descendants. A permanent display was set up by JDN inside the Walmart next to the layaway counter with Native American artifacts when the store opened. However, this display was NOT so permanent, as we discovered when we went into Walmart and asked about this display recently – July 2017. The display, per the person at the Layaway counter, had been knocked off the wall at some point by accident. The individuals who installed this display (assuming JDN) retrieved it, since it had been damaged.
When the Native American graves and artifacts were excavated from the Walmart site on Keith Drive, there were rumors of the dig being “cursed”. People were nervous about Native American spirits not being laid to rest properly (eventually they were moved to the new burial site with Cherokee oversight). After the store opened, Walmart employees working the night shift would hear voices around the same time every night from 2-4 am in different spots in the store, and there were objects that fell off shelves randomly with no known cause. The most active timeframe was said to be 2-3 am for these experiences. In all cases, no one was found around these locations. There was one employee that stated they heard chanting in the storage area in the back of the store, no one was around, and they left the store immediately. They never returned to their job at Walmart after that night.
For more information about Cherokee County History, visit the old Cherokee County Courthouse in downtown Canton, GA. Hours of operation and other information can be viewed on their website at http://www.rockbarn.com. Also, you can visit the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt College in Waleska to view Native American artifacts, tools, and other items. Their website is https://www.reinhardt.edu/funkheritage/Special-Programs/regional-history.php.