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A SUEPUR DESTINATION: Thomasville, Georgia

by Sue Purdy

 

"No, this is not where they make the furniture," I told everyone who asked, when I mentioned I was going to Thomasville, Georgia.

Instead, this compact and wonderful city of some 20,000 residents is more likely to be recognized as "the most Northern-like little town in the South."

Located just a 30 minute car ride north of Tallahassee, Florida, this is a perfect weekend getaway. Broad Street runs through the center of town where streets are paved with brick and original buildings bear plaques informing visitors what businesses they housed in the mid-1800s. Prepare to shop within the town, as stores are filled with lovely items; I found a wonderful outfit for my little grandson Max.

It was to Thomasville that wealthy Northerners came after the Civil War, enjoying the pine-scented air, abundant fishing and hunting, and fashionable social life of the late 1800's. They initially stayed in luxuriously appointed hotels but soon built elaborate 'winter cottages' patterned along the lines of the Lapham-Patterson House.

The Lapham-Patterson House, owned by a prosperous Chicago shoe merchant Charles W. Lapham, was constructed in 1885. Lapham had suffered lung damage during the Great Chicago fire of 1871 and came to Thomasville in order to regain his health. This elegant Victorian home, open to the public, is known for architectural eccentricities. There are no right angles in any of the 19 rooms and there are 45 doors—24 opening to the outside— in case of fire. Located on Dawson Street, it can't be overlooked with bright yellow shingles and a dusty-rose- colored roof.

Just down the road is the Dawson Street Inn, where I stayed for three nights. Owned by Dan and Alice (Randy) Mitchell, this B & B is a treat for many reasons. First, it's filled with wonderful antiques making it both elegant and comfortable. Second, breakfast here is so delicious that you'll linger over that meal, reluctant to leave. Randy's baking talents make each morning meal quite special. Lastly, the house has so much history, it tells the story of Thomasville's past.

The Dawson Street Inn was built in 1856 by local slave trader, Ephraim G. Ponder, who built an exact replica of the house three years later in Atlanta. It is this replica that can be seen in photos of the Battle of Atlanta. Mr. Ponder owned a slave named Festus Flipper, a skilled shoemaker and carriage repairman who, by earning extra money, was able to purchase freedom for his wife and five sons before the Civil war. His oldest son, Henry Ossian Flipper, was the first African-American to graduate from West Point and his grave (and that of his parents) can be seen in Thomasville.

The house had other owners after Ponder including Elijah R. Young. Young built the adjacent Young's Female College using the house as a dormitory. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, two sisters each owned a share in this property. Locals say it might have been a man or money that caused the sister's to feud, but the consequences were that they didn't speak, dividing the house into two equal parts. Two staircases led to the rooms above. Two kitchens, two main doors, two driveways, two halves of the basement, two front parlors became the layout of the house.

Today, the house is on the National Register of Historic Homes and open to the public for tours. Approximately 71 plantations in this immediate area were purchased by northerners after the Civil war. Pebble Hill Plantation, built in 1820, was purchased in 1896 by Howard Melville Hanna, a wealthy Cleveland businessman. Almost completely destroyed by fire in the 1930's, it was rebuilt under the direction of architect Abram Garfield, son of our 20th president.

Places to dine in Thomasville run the gamut from elegant to finger-lickin' good. I had dinner at Melhana, a plantation resort, and it was a night to remember. I enjoyed fried green tomatoes, plantation salad with a maple-pecan dressing and a rack of lamb with black eyed peas. At Praline's, located in the heart of town, the mood is young, the noise level energetic and the food is excellent. At Fallin's Bar-B-Q, I made a mess of myself with a plate of ribs the size of Texas.

I stopped to see 'The Big Oak' at the corner of North Crawford and East Monroe Streets. A Thomasville landmark since approximately 1685, this granddaddy of a tree has a limb spread of 162 feet and is 24 feet wide 'round the trunk. The resurrection fern that grows on its branches looks like a lovely green shawl. And I visited the Birdsong Nature Center with its 565 acres of wildflowers meadows, butterfly gardens, and amazing bird window located inside the main house. This wall of glass allows visitors to sit and watch some of the 160 species of birds that are attracted to the pool and garden here.

I found the Nature Center a relaxing way to end the weekend before leaving Thomasville to return to the frenzy of everyday life.


The Dawson Street Inn — www.dawsonstinn.com
Pebble Hill Plantation — www.pebblehill.com
Melhana — www.melhana.com
Birdsong Nature Center — www.tfn.net/birdsong/
Lapham-Patterson House — www.gastateparks.org/dnr/parks/ppage2.cgi?linkval=lapham

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