Thomas County is located deep in south central Georgia’s plantation country, along the state’s border with Florida. Once home to a fashionable winter resort for northerners, the county remains steeped in history and culture.
In 1825 Thomas County was formed from portions of Irwin and Decatur counties and named for Jett Thomas, a hero of the War of 1812 (1812-15). Originally populated by Native Americans, who used the land for hunting and farming, the area was later dominated by numerous cotton plantations. Though the plantation economy thrived on cotton, other crops, including tobacco, pears, peaches, and for a time, rice, contributed to a healthy and diversified economy. Many of the area plantations are still operational as quail-hunting plantations, museums, or bed-and-breakfast inns, and are owned by the families who originally bought the land.
After the railroad expanded to Thomas County in 1861, wealthy and elite northerners, seeking a retreat from cold winters and the subsequent threat of illness, began flocking to genteel Thomasville, the county seat. They soon brought their counterparts, who enjoyed the traditional southern pastimes of hunting, fishing, and active socializing. Many of these northern visitors built massive Victorian structures, or “grand winter cottages,” more than fifty of which are still standing either as bed-and-breakfasts or private residences. By the early 1900s, Thomasville’s popularity as a resort began to wane, but its distinctive architecture and culture remain today.
Thomas County’s industrial endeavors have been just as successful as its tourist and agricultural enterprises. The county is home to the second largest farmer’s market in the state and several Fortune 500 companies. According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Thomas County was 44,720, an increase from the 2000 population of 42,737, and is disbursed over the 548 square miles that make up the county.
The county has two school districts. The Thomasville City School District comprises six schools and serves all students who reside within the city limits. The Thomas County School District is composed of seven schools and serves all students who live in the county outside the city limits of Thomasville. Thomas County is also home to Thomas University, a private four-year institution that serves students from the surrounding area. Southwest Georgia Technical College (later Southern Regional Technical College) is located just inside the city limits of Thomasville and provides an alternate secondary-education option for students seeking vocational certification.
Thomas County comes to life each April with its annual Rose Show and Festival. The city bursts with colorful blooms as passersby enjoy not only the Thomasville Rose Garden but the innumerable rose bushes that line streets and grace the lawns of homes, schools, and businesses alike. Christmas is also a special time in Thomas County. Downtown Thomasville hosts Victorian Christmas on the second Thursday and Friday of each December. Visitors step back in time as they stroll down the cobblestone streets and visit with locals in period costumes from Thomasville’s heyday in the 1880s.
Places of interest include the many surviving plantations, particularly Pebble Hill. One of the country’s oldest golf courses, the Glen Arven Country Club, was said to be a favorite spot of U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower, who also went quail hunting outside Thomasville. The Big Oak at the corner of Crawford and East Monroe streets in Thomasville is the largest oak tree east of the Mississippi River, with a limb span of 162 feet. The tree is more than 315 years old and has been a member of the National Live Oak Society since 1936.