People strolled up and down the street going about their business, stopping in at the bank or the post office, dropping by the doctor’s office or window shopping at the jewelry store.
While we can still enjoy many of those pursuits today, the town has changed a lot over the years.
Now those visiting downtown can catch a glimpse of what Canton once looked like in the photographic panels that were put up this week cover the windows of the old Jones Mercantile Co. building on Main Street.
When I was growing up Jones’s, as we all called it, was the hub, the focal point, the heart of downtown Canton.
Built in 1879 by R.T. Jones, the store sold groceries, furniture, fuel, hardware, clothes, notions, and just about any dry goods a person might need.
Even when I was a child my family bought all our groceries there, as well as many of our clothes. The store had the feel of an old general store, where you could ramble from floor to floor, from department to department browsing and shopping.
Around the 1950s a young architect named John Portman was hired to freshen up the inside of the store and make it appeal more to the modern shopper of the day.
Some of you may remember him as the person who later designed the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta with the blue revolving restaurant on top and the indoor atrium inside.
While that was his first atrium hotel and he is known as the architect who made atria popular, for all I know good old Jones Mercantile may have been one of his first experiments with the concept.
That is probably why we had a floating staircase and a glamorous mezzanine, but I don’t know that for sure.
My friend Helen Jones Spears, whose grandfather P.W. Jones and father Foute Jones both were presidents of the mercantile store, tells the tale that her grandfather didn’t like the staircase because he did not think ladies would like walking up it.
However, Portman is rumored to have put on a skirt himself and walked up the staircase to show it was perfectly fine.
The groceries disappeared, the loading dock with old wooden crates of bananas and other produce and trucks filled with coal and other signs of past times could be seen no more behind the store.
A new parking lot was paved where once R.T. Jones’s home had stood, and the town began to really change.
It wasn’t until around 1971, though, that the store got the facelift of the outside that resulted in the stucco exterior and the metal paneled roof that we see today.
While the town was in the throes of change from the social upheaval, it seemed like a good time to become thoroughly modern.
We thought we looked more progressive when the old brick façade was covered by shiny new panels and large windows looked out onto the sidewalk and a large front door gleamed invitingly welcoming shoppers inside.
Now, though, those same enhancements we welcomed so enthusiastically look sad and faded, dating to a time we have long left behind.
Instead we long for the glory days of Canton, when the mellow brick façade of Jones Mercantile welcomed us to the center of town.
This past week I got a peek inside the old building and I was glad to see the bones from so long ago are still there. Maybe one of these days they will be revealed and the history of our community will shine through.
If you want to see what it looked like back in those days, just stroll by the windows to see a glimpse of the past and a promise of the future.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.