Georgia On My Mind

Thomasville is a Trip Back in Time

A weekend in this Southern town will slow your roll.

By Bill Wiatrak March 5, 2020

Thomasville's famous 320-year-old oak.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

When I was invited to speak in Thomasville, Georgia, for a traveler’s conference, I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly sure where it was. I remembered a vague reference from Cars 3 and thought I’d seen some photos in a Georgia brochure once. Maybe. The conference was set to take place at a historical plantation, South Eden, and the weekend sounded like a unique experience and great excuse for a road trip.  Thomasville is about an 11-hour drive from Houston, but there were plenty of fun stops along the way. Mardi Gras was in full swing in Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, and Thomasville is only about an hour from Tallahassee, Florida. It was an easy decision.

The city was named one of USA Today's top historic towns a few years back, and it’s easy to see why. The main street looks like it probably did 60 years ago and there are big, beautiful moss-covered trees everywhere. One of the town’s main tourist draws is actually an old oak tree that’s at least 340-years-old. It’s one of the oldest live oaks in the country and great care has been taken to preserve it. At any time you’re likely to find a wedding or a gathering of people just hanging out underneath its mammoth branches.

Pebble Hill Plantation's house tour astounds.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Pebble Hill Plantation is another big attraction a few miles south of town. The property was bought by Thomas Jefferson Johnson about 200 years ago and each owner since has added their own decorative touches and buildings to the property. Visitors can park and stroll through the grounds for a small $5 parking fee. There’s some beautiful scenery, interesting historic buildings, and a nice collection of horse carriages.

The plantation offers escorted tours ($18) of the main home that showcase the rooms' original furnishings and an interesting art collection. The former owners were hunting enthusiasts, so nearly every room has decor that would impress Charles Orvis.

Pebble Hill is another a popular venue for weddings and outdoor functions. There is not a traditional hotel on property, but there are two unique lodging options—the “firehouse apartment," a restored suite above the old fire carriage storage room and nurse’s station with a full kitchen and living room, and an overflow building that offers sleeping quarters for parties up to 10.

The Showboat Theater.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

South Eden Plantation is literally next door to Pebble Hill and has over two dozen uniquely decorated rooms and cottages, along with a main building for events. My room rocked scarlet-painted walls and a crystal chandelier over the white poster bed, which was so tall a foot stool was needed to navigate to the top of the mattress. 

The gorgeous property boasts a small restaurant and wine bar with live music on the weekends, a crystal clear pond filled with friendly fish and ducks waiting patiently for errant bread crumbs to come their way, and it basically looks like a filming location for Gone with the Wind. Coincidentally enough, the Showboat Theater (also on the property) was the first venue to ever screen the film before it was released in theaters, and stepping inside is a nostalgic moment in and of itself.

Wine tasting at Farmer's Daughter

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Thomasville is also famous for its Rose Show and Festival which takes place the last Friday (and weekend) in April. This hundred-year-old tradition features parades, fireworks, street dancing, family events, and lots and lots of flowers. Most of the festival events are free to the public.

Thomasville has more than its share of great restaurants, and you’ll have no problem getting your southern fix of Brunswick stew, grits, and fried green tomatoes with no questions asked. Look for Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, much more than it sounds, offering full service dining—their award-winning pimento and fried cheese curds are considered some of the best in the country. Jona’s Fish and Grits has a constant line out the door of diners waiting for its legendary dishes. Farmer’s Daughter offers tastings with affable co-owner Renee Moss, who not only makes the wine, but also designs the fun labels.

Flower's Foods Heritage Museum.

Image: Bill Wiatriak

And one more thing: If you’d like to know the origin of most packaged baked goods in the grocery store, look no further than Thomasville. It's the headquarters of Flower Foods, the second largest bakery company in the US, which owns everything from Wonder and Bunny Bread to Roman Meal to Dave’s Killer Bread and then some. A visit to its Heritage Center includes plenty of vintage memorabilia—check out the restored bread truck above—and lots of info about the history of the company, which opened its first bakery in 1919 and today rakes in billions annually with 46 bakery locations across the country.

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