A few years ago, a trail was built to connect Etowah Park with Heritage Park in Canton, creating roughly a 3-mile sidewalk along the Etowah River. There are several loops and wooded trails that branch off from it, and it’s easy enough to walk 5 miles or more, without having to repeat any section.
Recently approved and under construction, a 1.33-mile extension will connect Heritage Park with Boling Park, where an existing 1-mile section will link it up with the Boy Scout-maintained trails there. When all is said and done, you’ll be able to straddle the Etowah River for a full 8 miles.
The section linking Heritage and Boling parks that’s now under construction runs along the bank, directly below the highest point in Canton, on land that once was known as Crescent Farm. At the top of that rise overlooking the Etowah is the former residence of the farm, built in 1922, which currently houses a Wellstar facility. Down the hill on the other side is the Rock Barn, the former home of the most prized horses and mules on the farm. The horses were bred for harness racing, and some of the animals sired there made the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in New York. Their owner — also the builder and owner of Crescent Farm — was a man named Augustus “Gus” Coggins, who just might be the single-most interesting and controversial person in Cherokee County’s history.
Coggins was a successful farmer, horse breeder and banker. In the post-Civil War era, he and the owners of several other nearby, smaller farms, took advantage of the lower-cost labor available by hiring Black people to work on his farm. This decision did not sit well with many of his working-class white neighbors, some of whom belonged to the “night riders,” now known as the Klan. He and others began receiving threats around 1900, and the Rock Barn, built in 1906 using stones from the Etowah River, was his reply. He would not be intimidated by the idle threats of men behind masks.
In December 1916, what had until then been idle threats became reality, when the Klan torched barns owned by Coggins and other farmers who used Black labor. Crescent Farm lost two barns, one that contained his entire corn crop and another filled with horses and mules. The loss was estimated at $75,000 to $80,000, the equivalent of close to $2 million today. The Rock Barn, which housed Coggins’ best horses and mules, escaped the catastrophe, and he did well enough to build the grand residence a half-dozen years later.
A decade after the barns of Crescent Farm were set ablaze, disaster struck when the bank Coggins had founded failed, forcing him into bankruptcy. He left town with considerable economic damage in his wake, and didn’t return to Cherokee County until his body was brought back after his death in 1952 to be buried near his father, A.B. Coggins, and his mother, Mary Louise Coggins, in Riverview Cemetery.
Soon enough, we’ll be able to trod the riverbank of the former Crescent Farm, directly across from the old Canton Textile Mill No. 1, and ponder who Gus Coggins really was — a shrewd businessman and community leader, or a man whose businesses caused more harm than good; a man who stood up to the Klan, or a man who ran off with other people’s money; a man who hired Black people when others would not, or a man who exploited them for lower wages to maximize profits. Perhaps, he was all of those. In the words of Peter Tomasi, “There are no heroes, and there are no villains. There are just opposing points of view. That’s all history is — the viciously long battle between world views.”
– The Wanderer has been a resident of Cherokee County for nearly 20 years, and constantly is learning about his community on daily walks, which totaled a little more than 1,800 miles in 2021. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.