A town founded on revolutionizing tradition may seem a non sequitur for some, but for the folks of Thomasville, Georgia, it’s just a way of life. Here you’ll find a seamless integration of history and innovation—a rebellious brand of creativity that celebrates the old by reimagining it as new. You’ll find evidence of the city’s quirky ethos all around the city, but here are four of our favorites:
- The New Agrarian Sweet Grass Dairy’s cheese is the perfect balance of science, sustainability, and deliciousness (photo by Mike Walker)
The city of Thomasville may have been built on the cash crops of the South, but the newest fruits of the field aren’t fruits at all—or vegetables, for that matter—they’re cows, and they’re undoubtedly some of the happiest specimens you’ll find. Yes, the same ingredients that made cotton, corn, and sugarcane king—rich soil, warm weather, and plenty of Southern sunshine—make Thomasville the perfect place for the herd of jerseys who call Sweet Grass Dairy home. You’ll find no pens for these gals; they’re raised “barn free,” allowed to lunch al fresco 365 days a year. Much like more traditional “crops,” the Sweet Grass cows are rotated from field to field (a practice called rotational grazing), and though their cycle runs on a twelve-hour rotation instead of twelve months, the result is the same: happy dirt, happy bugs, and happy cows, which translates directly into happy customers for Sweet Grass. Stop by their shop in Thomasville to sample any one of their five award-winning cheeses—from the buttery funk of soft-ripened Green Hill to the earthy cream of the Thomasville Tomme—and we think you’ll agree, they’ve perfected the balance of science, sustainability, and deliciousness.
- The Old Oak Thomasville’s Big Oak is one of the largest east of the Mississippi (photo by Mike Walker)
Leave it to the folks of Thomasville to figure out a way to gussy up an Oak Tree. At 329 years old, the city’s Big Oak was one of the first of its kind to be registered to the Live Oak Society (yes, there is such a thing, and it was 49th, to be exact), and has stood watch over the city since before the Revolutionary War. Sixty-eight feet tall, with a 165-foot limb-span and 26-foot girth, one might think there’s little way to improve upon the tree, but one would be wrong. In addition to other after-market accouterment, including support cables, an underground irrigation system, and an on-call tree surgeon, the venerable old oak now also sports a selfie-cam. Visitors paying homage to the tree can pose, dial in on their smartphones to trigger the shutter, and then download their photos online.
- The New HuntArtist Paul Rhymer pays homage to the tiny bird that put the city of Thomasville on the map with 12 bronze quail hidden around the city (photo by Mike Walker)
The Bobwhite is a persnickety bird. Chubby and freckled, it shuffles its way through the underbrush of Georgia’s grasslands and forests, self-importantly calling out its own name, but freezing mid-step the moment it runs the risk of being exposed. Not surprisingly, its elusive nature has made it a coveted prize for hunters for the past 150 years, enticing blue-blooded thrill-seekers to employ wagons, dogs, and horses alike to seek out His Secretive Royal Chubbiness. It’s a tradition that spurred the blossom of Thomasville’s plantation culture, and it’s a tradition that carries on yet in the fields and forests surrounding the city, but in the modern era, it all seems rather exhausting, doesn’t it? Lucky for us (and the perennially-heckled quail), the city has come with a solution. Sprinkled across historic downtown Thomasville, twelve petite bronze quail statues await moderately-adventurous visitors who have a mind to hunt—no hounds or firearms necessary.
- The Old StandardPebble Hill Plantation is one of 70 plantations surrounding Thomasville, but the only one open to the public (photo courtesy of Pebble Hill Plantation)
None of these creative-spins on tradition should come as a surprise, when one considers the fact that the modern city of Thomasville itself was founded on a tradition of innovative repurposing. In the years following the Civil War, Thomasville—still punch-drunk and reeling from the crash of its largely agrarian economy—found an unlikely ally. When the winter months left the industrial strongholds blanketed in ice and snow, many of the cities’ more delicate elite sought respite from the cold by going down South, and for anyone riding the railroad, Thomasville was as South as one could get. Savvy Thomasville saw in the aristocratic carloads not an encroachment but an opportunity. Discriminating visitors soon had the option of, not one, but two grand, luxury hotels to choose from, but for those looking to put down more permanent roots, a novel solution presented itself. Dozens of plantation homes peppered the countryside surrounding Thomasville, once opulent testaments to the power of King Cotton, but now largely abandoned and left to the mercy of time and the elements. Slowly but surely, Thomasville’s newest residents turned the trend around, purchasing the dilapidated plantations and restoring the homes and surrounding grounds to their original glory. Their success still resonates in the hills and valleys surrounding the city, where seventy privately-owned plantations totaling over 300,000 acres survive today.