Thomas County, located in southwest Georgia and bordering Florida, was formed in 1825 from parts of
Irwin and Decatur counties 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 generally believed to have been named for Major General Jet Thomas, a member of the State Militia during the War of 1812.
As the county seat, Thomasville became the center of educational, political, social, economic and
religious activities. Without a railroad until 1861, Thomas Countians became largely self-sufficient. Agriculture was diversified, and business methods were modernized. The county developed one of the state’s best educational systems. Thomas County evolved from an Indian hunting domain into a prosperous region.
The area’s rich land permitted the formation of a classic old South society, a plantation economy based on cotton. The society was rigid and static, peopled by yeomen farmers, professional men, planters, slaves, free Negroes and businessmen both large and small. 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 for a short period of time.
Although predominately agricultural in its early years, Thomas County was never totally dependent upon cotton, raising a variety of crops from pears to tobacco. These products yielded greater returns than those enjoyed by many of the county’s neighbors.
As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800’s, became a winter resort of national and international fame. In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came for their health, breathing pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments. They were soon joined, however, by healthy friends to enjoy hunting, fishing and an active social life. Some of the most luxuriously appointed hotels of America’s gilded age were located in Thomasville, the “Original Winter Resort of the South.”
Many of the “winter cottages’ built during the 1880’s are now restored through efforts of Thomasville Landmarks, Inc. and Thomasville citizens. The Lapham-Patterson House, a Victorian house museum open to the public, was built in 1885 as a winter residence by Charles W. Lapham of Chicago. Owned by the State of Georgia and maintained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of those who came to Thomasville during the “grand hotel era” bought property and built magnificent mansions and plantation homes. Many of these plantations are still owned by the families who built them and are visited year round. According to local historians, it was in Thomas County that Mark Hanna and William McKinley planned the strategy that led to McKinley’s nomination for President. President Eisenhower visited Thomas County in 1956 to rest after an illness and to decide whether or not to run for a second term. The local Glen Arven golf course, one of America’s oldest, was a favorite of President Eisenhower’s.
Although the “grand hotel era” ended with the extension of the railroad into southern Florida, Thomasville and Thomas County have continued the area’s longstanding tradition of cultural and economic diversity. There is a rich heritage in Thomasville and Thomas County, and the people work at guarding and preserving that heritage while boldly stepping forward to the challenges that lie ahead.