HISTORY OF THE ROSE SHOW & FESTIVAL
Historic description courtesy of the Thomasville History Center & photos courtesy of the collections of the Thomasville History Center
Vegetables, not roses, can be given credit for our Rose Show. In the fall of 1920, Lilla Forrest of Boston, Georgia, wanted to have a display at the State Fair in Macon. With the help of a few close friends, she created a vegetable exhibit and entered it into the fair. The exhibit won the first prize of $25! The prize winnings were used as seed money to cover the expenses for what would become the first ever Rose Show.
Held in 1922 in Neel’s Department Store in downtown Thomasville, the first Rose Show can be credited to Mrs. W.M. Harris. It was immediately popular. So popular in fact, that roses and flowers covered the counters, the halls, and the balcony areas of the store.
As the show outgrew the department store it was moved to larger locations like a Buick showroom, basketball court, and even a tobacco warehouse. It is reported that in the late 1920s, reporters and photographers from all over would come to report the news of the Rose Show.
The Rose Show grew to include more and more of the local community, often enjoying exhibits and assistance from local businesses, schools, scout troops, clubs, and other organizations. These groups brought with them fun and one-of-a-kind ideas for entries like Mrs. Payne Whitney’s entry of a life-sized horse made of flowers.
Throughout the war years, the Rose Show was dramatically scaled back. Exhibits were displayed at the American Legion Post as well as local businesses. The 1943 show charged a 25-cent admission fee and profits were used to purchase defense bonds.
The event saw a resurgence in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the addition of the Rose Parade and the street dance, and 1948 is the year that the Rose Festival began. In 1951, the Rose Show was dedicated for the very first time to Samuel Conrad Hjort. Mr. Hjort was one of the original founders of the event and began the rose test garden which allowed locals and visitors alike to learn more about roses and their growth.
The 1970s brought the addition of the children’s Rose Bud parade. The Rose Show grew yet again and moved to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds in 1981. It was then that the show expanded to include two types of shows: a rose show and a standard flower show. Since the 1990s, the footprint of the show has continued to grow to include the Civic Garden Club Show, the Show and Shine Car and Truck Show, and Orchids on Parade. The Rose Show itself is now located prominently in downtown.
Over 100 years later, the event continues to evolve and offer new experiences every year.