Welcome to Canton, Mississippi, City of Lights, located 20 miles north of Jackson and 8 miles from the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, Canton is a vibrant community where history is still alive and unfolding. The streets are lined with many beautiful antebellum and turn-of-the-century homes. Whether your interest is in southern culture, architecture; arts and crafts, holiday tradition, shopping or dining - all roads lead to Canton.
Canton boasts many exciting historic sites and attractions. From architectural gems to historical markers, movie museums to holiday fantasies, discover the fun of Canton!
Canton is located in central Mississippi and is only 20 miles north of the capitol city of Jackson, MS. It is a lively self-sufficient community in the metro Jackson area, and is the county seat of Madison County. US Highways 51, 16, 22, and 43 intersect in Canton. Canton is located at north exit 124 and south exit 119 of Interstate 55.
Atlanta, GA 416 miles
Chicago, IL 710 miles
Dallas, TX 410 miles
Memphis, TN 187 miles
New Orleans 210 miles
The area enjoys complete seasonal cycles with pleasant spring and fall seasons. Winter months are mild with cold spells of short duration. Summer months are quite warm. The mean annual temperature is 65.6 degrees. Average annual rainfall is 52.07 inches.
Named for fourth President James Madison, the 23rd county in Mississippi was created in 1823 out of Yazoo and Hinds Counties. It incorporated lands between the Pearl and Big Black Rivers where General Andrew Jackson met with the Choctaw Chieftain, Pushmataha. That meeting resulted in the 1820 Treaty of Doak's Stand.
This area attracted large numbers of settlers from Virginia and the Carolinas who came to farm the lush, rolling hills, and fertile soil.
In 1833 the Madison County Board of Police (a governing body similar to today's supervisors) appointed surveyor John B. Peyton to select a geographical center for a new county seat and to lay it out in blocks. In 1834, 40 acres of land belonging to Killis and Margaret Walton were deeded to the county for $100. The land was divided into square parcels with the plot nearest the center reserved for the public square.
In 1834, the town was legally incorporated and boasted a population of 400. The first recorded ordinance made it a misdemeanor to gallop horse, mare, or mule on any street or alley.
By 1838, Canton boasted two banks, two hotels, ten dry goods stores, a drug store, three groceries, a bakery, a tin shop, three tailor shops, and two watchmakers. The public buildings were a courthouse, jail, church and a female academy. The town enjoyed notoriety for having as visitors the celebrated original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, who ordered two custom suits from Perlinsky's Tailor Shop.
There are two stories concerning the naming of Canton, and both attribute the name to Chinese origin. One states that Canton, Mississippi, is the exact opposite side of the world as Canton, China, and was thus named. The other story states the daughter of a Chinese family died in the area and the sympathetic community named the town for the family. There is really no more proof for one over the other; it's just which one you wish to believe.
This was the beginning of our town now molded by 160 years of history into its present distinctive character. It was an early farming center with cotton fields worked by many slaves - a fact that later caused the area to be the only county outside the Delta with blacks outnumbering whites four to one. Some of its affluent citizens built beautiful antebellum homes. It became a big railroad, lumber and saloon center. Battered by two Union invasions in the Civil War, challenged by the financial and political chaos of the Reconstruction, decimated by the yellow fever epidemic of 1870, rocked economically by the collapse of the lumber industry in the Depression of the Thirties, torn by racial strife in the 1960's, our town has survived to remain a friendly, progressive community. It is still appreciative of its colorful past and proud to share the humor and the romance of its distinctive Southern personality.
The very center and glory of our town is the beautiful Greek Revival Courthouse. Members of the local Masonic Order laid the cornerstone in July, 1855. The Board of Police paid $26,428 for it, as well as $65 per month to a commissioner to supervise proper construction - a magnificent sum at that time. The brick used were salvaged from old Courthouse that had been condemned in 1840 because of the deterioration of the mortar. The new Courthouse was the scene of a huge Fourth of July celebration in 1857 but was not legally accepted until 1858. The beautiful iron fence was added later at a cost of $5,250.
The Courthouse has also served as a gathering place to welcome the railroad, send soldiers off to war, as a Court of Justice and the seat of county offices, a polling place, an early library, a theater, and a hospital during the yellow fever epidemic.
The happenings within the Courthouse walls have reflected the humorous, chivalrous, hardheaded, hospitable personalities who have given the South its distinctive character. During reconstruction, there was so much ballot box stuffing and tensions that when Election Day threatened to become bloody, a group of officials dispersed a gathering crowd by climbing into the dome and shooting down rocks with sling shots.
The legal chambers within the Courthouse have witnessed many fiery trails, several of which resulted in duels between lawyers. When dueling had been outlawed in the state, Judge Calhoun and Judge Bowers, respecting the law, traveled together to Vicksburg and crossed the river into Louisiana to settle a court quarrel with pistols. Neither man was injured; it was simply a matter of honor.
In 1994-1995 a new Courthouse was built one block north of the Square and the beautiful old Courthouse underwent a $2,000,000 renovation. The 1855 cornerstone was opened and re-laid by the Masonic Order. The first floor is currently home to the Madison County Economic Development Authority, and the old courtroom, on the second floor, is currently not in use to the public.
The Courthouse Square
In 1982, the Canton Courthouse Historic Square District was officially entered in the National Register of Historic Places and declared one of the three best examples in the State of Mississippi.
The Courthouse Square, still the focus of exciting activities, is the bi-annual venue for the nationally famous Canton Flea Market Arts & Crafts Show. The Market attracts up to 100,000 visitors annually from across the United States and beyond.
It is estimated that over $20,000,000 in public and private funding has been invested in the Canton Square District, including the new and old Courthouses.
In recent years, the beauty, uniqueness, and preservation efforts of our Courthouse Square and Historic District, with its beautiful homes, have drawn the attention of Hollywood. Canton has been the location site for five feature films beginning in 1995 with John Grisham's A Time To Kill. This was quickly followed by Willie Morris' My Dog Skip, The Rising Place (an independent film by Tom Rice of Jackson, MS), the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Eudora Wetly's The Ponder Heart for PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Many advertising agencies have chosen Canton as the location for commercial and corporate shoots, and PBS again chose the town for a segment of a six hour blues documentary on blues great Skip James this will air in 2003.
With the location site of the Nissan Automotive Plant one mile south of the city, proposed plans for the Mississippi Film Complex, and the continued efforts toward preservation by the community, Canton's future is well-assured.
Family-owned shops are around the Square with items such as arts and crafts, gifts, clothing, jewelry, furniture, and antiques. All Very friendly and offer free gift-wrapping!