HISTORY AND ROSES IN THOMASVILLE, A DOT ON THE GEORGIA MAP –
Wooodalls Southern RV — March, 2001
It is no wonder the tiny town of Thomasville is bustling with those who’ve discovered it. It’s a far cry from urbanized Tallahassee, Florida, its nearest heavyweight neighbor. A thirty minute drive from that city (northeast off 1-10 on highway 319) makes it worth the detour, or even an extra trip.
Not to be confused with North Carolina’s Thomasville, this town has its own distinct appeal, and there’s not a furniture factory in sight. In fact, one’s initial reaction on driving into Thomasville is that “It’s a Wonderful Life” could have been filmed on its streets. With its population of 20,000, its leafy, wide streets and Victorian houses — many adorned with candles in windows and rocking chair porches — it is a beguiling place as all-American as the flags that fly here on Main Street and the neighborly “hello’s” that greet visitors at every turn. And what a Main Street it is! Thomasville takes us into the nineteenth century here, thanks to the National Historic Trust. Eighteen years ago, it became one of the first cities to be eligible for a grant that restored the street’s facades and planted new trees. Now, with returned or reproduced shop signs, as for example “Isaac Levy 1184 Mercantile” or “Pickett Bootist and Shoes, 1884″, the avenue takes one on a walk into a gentler time. Jergen’s Jewelry Store on Broad Street is worth a stop; its 1856 interior is a thoughtful restoration of a Victorian interior with old-world paneling and light fixtures reminiscent of great-grandma’s parlor.
Thomasville had its heyday after the Civil War because it was one of the very few Southern cities hospitable to Northerners, but as soon as Florida was developed the town’s fortunes fell. Still, the vestiges of its elegant past remain. Many here occupied plantations; the grand houses built on working farms still exist today, thanks to the benevolent tax structure, which allows for great wealth. It also encourages civic pride, and one sees that everywhere. Here is a place in love with its own history, but accepting of progress. (Yes, RV’s are quite welcome here.)
The jewel in the town’s crown may be the glamorous Melhana Plantation, one of 71 historic plantations in South Georgia. Originally set on 7,500 acres, its 30 historic buildings now sit on just 40 beautified ones. Seeking refuge in the peace of this quiet corner of the south, it’s understandable why Jacqueline Kennedy headed to Melhana, now a resort, immediately following the assassination of her husband. Famed for its magnolias, with its luxury accommodations and imposing pink stucco facade, the inn is now one of 150 Historic Hotels of America.
Another claim to fame is its cuisine, and going one better than simply dining in its pink-walls-and-candlelight restaurant, Melhana offers “Taste of the Month” cooking classes between February and October. For one hundred dollars, would-be chefs can take three days of lessons from the executive chef. Not a foodie? Just stop by the plantation for a drink and let the guitarist and piano player entertain you during cocktail hour.
If Melhana Plantation is known for its magnolias, Thomasville is famous for its roses. Located at Cherokee Lake on Covington Avenue, a garden the city owns is filled with 500 roses of both hybrid and garden varieties. The eye-catching field of flowers is free and open to the public. For horticulture fans, the Rose Show and Festival at the end of April is the best time to visit. Parades, street dances, arts and crafts sales celebrate the occasion; there’s music, even a Rose City Golf Classic. It’s at the Country Oaks Municipal Golf Course on Georgia Highway and it’s a 71 handicap. Reserve early for this event: (912) 225-4333.
Nature doesn’t stop at roses in Thomasville. The Birdsong Plantation, a 565 acre working farm focused more on wildlife than vegetation, is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 9 to 5, and Sunday from 1 to 5. This is the home not only of magnolia trees and long leaf pines, but also of deer, turkeys, bobcats and cotton rats, and since it’s a preserve, no hunting, no trapping is allowed here. An unusual bird window is a standout in this park. Imagine being invited to a pleasant, rustic house in the woods, taking a seat in the living room and quietly looking through a picture window to observe nature’s inspired aviary drama. In full-view and closeup are redheaded woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals and grackles living their bird lives, feeding themselves and their young, in a natural setting of a waterfall, and crepe myrtles giving tree shade, with an occasional salamander, hummingbird or woodpecker paying a visit. Checking out everything nature has to offer here will cost about five dollars and should keep one happily occupied for hours. If you’re not too tired, you might stop at the corner of North Crawford and east Monroe Streets to take in the majestic Thomasville oak tree, born from an acorn in 1685. It’s got a circumference of 24 feet, a limb spread of 162 and a resurrection fern grows on its branches. President Eisenhower visited this corner and was so impressed that he photographed the tree himself.
Other photo opportunities abound in town. Old Magnolia Cemetery is the resting place of First Lieutenant Henry Flipper, the first African American graduate of West Point. He was dishonorably discharged, accused of stealing three thousand dollars and later exonerated. After his name was cleared he became an engineer and inventor. Nearby is the 1907 one-room schoolhouse that educated him and many black youngsters who lived here as well. Most were the children of the employees of the white gentry that vacationed here every winter. The Lapham-Patterson House is a grand Victorian cottage, typical of the summer residences of the era. And All Saint’s Episcopal Church, the oldest in Thomasville and also visited by Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband’s death, is pretty and white and photogenic too.
For casual dining, Richard’s Grill, with its Beatles posters on the walls, offers “fried pasta” and family dining. Fallin’s is a barbecue joint where the barbecue is an art and the fussy restaurant owner has high standards and a cook who’s been with him for fourteen years. It is highly recommended. The City of Roses RV Park is at Old Boston Road. It is a “clean, quiet” park, allows gas or charcoal grills, small children and pets, and features some 60 Cable Channels.
For more information call Thomasville Tourism Authority at (800)704-2350 or check the website: http://www.thomasvillega.com