Thomasville, Georgia

In his later years, Oliver Hazard Payne maintained a winter home in Thomasville, Georgia, which had gained a reputation for winter retreats for hunting and fishing for many of the barons of the gilded age, including John D. Archbold of Standard Oil and  Harry Davidson of the Morgan group who spent a year recuperating in 1920 at Magnolia Plantation, his estate in Thomasville.  Colonel Payne willed his Thomasville property to Harry Payne Whitney, one of his favorite nephews.  

More than a century ago, Thomasville was celebrated as one of the most fashionable places in the world to visit. During the Victorian era, many wealthy northern socialites and pleasure seekers traveled by rail to enjoy Thomasville as their grand winter resort. Attracted to the genteel life of south Georgia, many made Thomasville their winter home and built "grand winter cottages". Although this era quickly faded in the early 1900s, more than fifty of these grand historic homes still grace Thomasville's streets.

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, supplying goods and men to Savannah. 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. Although some racial tension existed during Reconstruction, Thomasville and Thomas County escaped much of the bitterness felt elsewhere in the South and remarkably good relations between blacks and whites were sustained throughout the period.

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 the 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 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 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 the 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. Today, Thomasville is home to both the second largest Farmer's Market in the State and to Fortune 500 companies.

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.

References:
  The above information is taken from two websites about Thomasville:  www.rose.net and  www.thomasvillega.net

Future research:
Locate site of Oliver Payne's house, find the architects, when it was built, and who owns it now (if it still stands).

most recent revision:               November 26, 2001
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