Hateful graffiti covered at Grasse River Heritage Park in Canton

Jul. 17—CANTON — Hateful graffiti spotted at Heritage Park has been concealed after community members reported it to Grasse River Heritage.

A swastika, the N-word and homophobic slurs were painted on the remnant structure of the James Spears Saw Planing and Shingle Mill on Falls Island. Heritage Park, which encompasses Coakley Island and Falls Island on the Grasse River, is owned and maintained by Grasse River Heritage, a nonprofit collective that honors Canton's natural and cultural history in public spaces.

Spray-painted words and images remain on the ruins of the former mill's sawdust bunker and on other fixtures in the park, but most of the graffiti is innocuous. Hearts, love notes and the message "don't do drugs" are visible along the half-mile loop through 4 1/2 wooded acres.

Alastair M. Kocho-Williams, a Clarkson University history professor, photographed the derogatory painting last week, and the photo was later posted to Facebook. It's unclear when the paint was applied.

Grasse River Heritage President Tom A. Langen said this is the first time racist, antisemitic and homophobic vandalism has been reported and addressed in his four years being involved with the all-volunteer organization.

"This is intended to be a welcoming place that's open to the public," Mr. Langen said. "It's absolutely counter to the mission of Grasse River Heritage to have messages or signs that are hostile, abusive and discriminatory."

Heritage Park, as well as the organization's Willow Island Sculpture Garden on the south side of the Main Street bridge, are spaces frequented by adults and children, he added.

The Spears mill was one of several active sites on and around Falls Island in the 1800s. Interpretive signs dot the trail, detailing the geologic, ecologic and industrial history of Canton's stretch of the Grasse River. Because of the area's historical significance and the placement of the graffiti on ruins, Mr. Langen said, a careful solution needed to be considered so the structure wasn't further compromised.

Grasse River Heritage first tried solvents to remove the paint, but even with "a lot of elbow grease," Mr. Langen said, it only faded. A new coat of paint was used this week to obscure it.

Learn more about Grasse River Heritage and its village projects at grasseriverheritage.org. Report park needs to grasseriverheritage@gmail.com.