Thomas County, located in southwest Georgia and bordering Florida, was formed in 1825 by legislation introduced by Thomas J. Johnson, owner-builder of Pebble Hill Plantation. One year later, on December 22, 1826, a location was established for the new county seat, Thomasville. The city and county are believed to have been named for Major General Jett Thomas, a member of the State Militia during the war of 1812.
Without a railroad until 1861, Thomas County residents became largely self-sufficient. Agriculture was diversified and business methods were modernized. With the advent of the Civil War, Thomasville played an important role in the Confederate cause by supplying goods and men. The war itself touched the county only briefly when Federal prisoners were sent to Thomasville from Andersonville in late 1864.
As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800s, became known as the “Winter Resort of the South.” In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came to Thomasville for their health, breathing the pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments. They were soon joined by friends to enjoy hunting, fishing, and an active social life, including golf, horse racing, and bicycling. Thomasville came to represent the best of Southern hospitality with the lavishness of the resort lifestyle.
Thomasville’s luxurious hotels regularly hosted America’s wealthiest families as their guests. Once discovered that it cost less to purchase land than rent hotel rooms, these wealthy families bought property and built grand Victorian mansions and plantation homes. Many of these plantations are still owned by the families who built them and are visited year round. Many of the “winter cottages” built during the 1880s have been restored through efforts of Thomasville Landmarks Inc., and Thomasville citizens.
Although the grand hotel era ended with the extension of the railroad into southern Florida, Thomasville and Thomas County have continued the area’s long-standing tradition of cultural and economic diversity. There is a rich heritage in Thomas County, and the community works hard to guard and preserve its history and tradition.
In January 2016, Thomasville was officially designated as the state’s “Rose City” during Tourism Day at the Capitol. Georgia Representative Darlene Taylor, Georgia Representative Amy Carter, Georgia Representative Sam Watson and Georgia Senator Dean Burke worked with City of Thomasville staff to establish the designation.
Fun Facts About Thomasville
Electricity came to Thomasville in 1889. A group of private investors installed a small generator at the Thomasville Variety Works on Stevens Street. The first generator had a capacity of only 50 lights.
In 1906, the City of Thomasville purchased the generator from Thomasville Electric Light and Gas Company for $32,000. The existing water system and the new electric plant were combined into the Water and Light Department, and Mr. D.R. Pringle was hired as the first superintendent. Electricity was furnished only during the hours of darkness. The electric power plant consumed coal and light oil to generate the electricity.
During the 1940s and 1950s the use of electricity jumped by leaps and bounds, putting the City in a challenging situation of keeping the generating capacity in step with the consumption of electricity. In 1946-47 the efficiency of the equipment was further improved with the installation of a 400 pound boiler and 5,000 kW turbine. The last plant expansion was completed in 1951.
Thomasville is home to the Big Oak, a massive live oak tree that has a limb span of 162 feet -- two feet wider than Niagara Falls is deep. It is 68 feet tall and has a trunk circumference of 24 feet. This massive Southern Live Oak grew from a tiny acorn and is now close to 400 years old!
Thomasville even has a Big Oak Cam that can take your picture! Your picture will be uploaded to the Internet for viewing, downloading, and emailing to friends and family.
Jacqueline Kennedy chose to stay on a Thomasville plantation following the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. She arrived in February 1964 and was the guest of Mrs. John Hay Whitney of Greenwood Plantation. She attended mass at a local Catholic Church (now All Saints Episcopal Church). Her photo was taken as she exited the church and made the Associated Press Wire Service.
Other interesting facts about Thomasville include:
- The City of Thomasville became one of the original members of the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia in 1977 in order to purchase electricity at a reduced rate.
- Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper was born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856. He was the eldest of five children, born to Festus and Isabella Flipper. In 1874, he became the fifth black man accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was often ostracized by the other cadets and had little interaction or support from the other white cadets, yet he preserved and became the first black man to graduate from West Point in 1877. He accepted a commission as second lieutenant to Company A of the Tenth United States Cavalry in 1878. He first reached Fort Still, Oklahoma, where he designed and supervised the creation of drainage to the “malarial ponds,” which saved hundreds of enlisted lives. To this day, Flipper’s Ditch still operates and has been a historic landmark since 1977. Also in 1977, the Henry O. Flipper Award was created at West Point and is presented to the graduating cadet who exhibits “leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance in the face of unusual circumstances.” Lt. Henry Flipper’s remains are interred at the Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper Historic Cemetery, located at 804 North Madison Street
- 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, Jr. is a native of Thomasville and graduate of Thomas County Central High School. After he graduated from Florida State University, Ward by-passed the NFL and played professional basketball for the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets before retiring in 2005. His Heisman Trophy, earned playing quarterback for the Seminoles, is on display at the Thomas County Public Library.
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Thomasville five times between 1952 and 1961. In 1956, he visited to rest after an illness and to decide whether or not to run for a second term. The local Glen Arven Country Club, one of America’s oldest, was a favorite golf course of the president.
- Actress Joanne Woodward was born in Thomasville in February 27, 1930. The Thomasville native won an Oscar for her role in The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and was the wife of the late actor Paul Newman.
- WPAX Radio Station is the third oldest radio station in Georgia and the twentieth oldest radio station in the United States. Its first air date was in 1922.
- The Thomasville History Center has the second-oldest known private bowling alley in the country. It was built of heart pine lumber in 1896.
- Pinetree Boulevard is the oldest perimeter road in the United States. It was originally established as a “country drive” for visiting Northerners in the late 1800s. It is situated 2.5 miles from the center of town.