History of Towne Lake

Up until the mid-1980s, Cherokee County was a quiet, rural community of rolling hills and a few scattered subdivisions of 50 to 100 homes. Most of its 50,000 residents lived around Canton, the county seat and historic mill town.

Southern Cherokee featured a few subdivisions, mostly surrounding Woodstock, and a scant few restaurants and shops. For the most part, the area was dominated by a rolling expanse of heavily wooded acres, close to a large lake, with good road access.

If someone was looking to build a large master-planned community featuring golf courses, swimming pools and tennis courts, they would have a hard time finding a better location, only 30 miles from a major city.

So, Larry Johnson, of the Texas-based Johnson Co., made his move.

Johnson’s vision was to create a community of homes, schools, restaurants and shops that would resemble a small city. The original plans for Towne Lake envisioned 12,000 homes spread across 3,700 acres. Eventually, the plan was modified to approximately 8,000 homes.

Arvida was one of the first development companies to sign up. Their 1,300-home swim-tennis neighborhood helped set the tone, leading the way for other homes, apartments, offices and retail centers.

Semi-retired developer George McClure, 70, owned Manchester Properties, another of the developers. He also is a pilot and remembers taking others for a bird’s-eye view of the rocky terrain, which had no roads, county water or sewers.

One flyover with John Wieland left the well-known builder commenting about feeling like he was “in the middle of the boondocks.”

The property wasn’t completely in the hinterlands. While a new interstate, I-575, brought northbound travelers by the master-planned community, there was no direct access to the development. The first phase of I-575, which stopped at Highway 92, opened in October 1980. The second phase, taking travelers to Riverstone Parkway at Exit 20, opened in March 1985.

Former Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood, who was sole county commissioner at the time, said the Georgia Department of Transportation funded the construction of a two-lane bridge over Noonday Creek (on the present Towne Lake Parkway), but the road from I-575 to the schools, called West Mill Road, was just a trail, only passable with four-wheel drive.

McClure remembers when a trip to the grocery store or bait shop meant driving to Big Star, in the shopping center on the northwest corner of the Bells Ferry Road and Highway 92 intersection.

Not everyone was excited for the growth that Towne Lake would bring. Hobgood recalls quite a bit of opposition; about 300 people attended the meeting when he approved the final plan. The crowd filled the first floor and balcony of the old courthouse.

“When the plans were presented to me, I felt very strongly that it made sense to have a large, well-planned community, as opposed to what had been developing in the southern part of Cherokee County,” he said. “Those developments had no connectivity to one another, with many entrances directly off SR 92 and other roads. It just made sense to plan a community where residents could truly live, work and play. Towne Lake was truly the first mixed-use development of its kind in Cherokee County.”

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