Thomas County was formed in 1825 by legislation introduced by Thomas J. Johnson, owner-builder of Pebble Hill Plantation. One year later, on December 22, 1826, a location was established for the new county seat, Thomasville. The city and county are believed to have been named for Major General Jett Thomas, a member of the State Militia during the war of 1812. Without a railroad until 1861, Thomas County residents became largely self-sufficient. Agriculture was diversified and business methods were modernized. As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800s, became known as the “Winter Resort of the South.” In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came to Thomasville for their health, breathing the pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments. They were soon joined by friends to enjoy hunting, fishing, and an active social life, including golf, horse racing and bicycling. Thomasville came to represent the best of Southern hospitality with the lavishness of the resort lifestyle.
Thomasville’s luxurious hotels regularly hosted America’s wealthiest families as their guests. Once they discovered that it cost less to purchase land than rent hotel rooms, these wealthy families bought property and built grand Victorian mansions and plantation homes. Many of these plantations are still owned by the families who built them and are visited year round. Many of the “winter cottages” built during the 1880s have been lovingly restored and are included on the Historic Walking and Driving Tour of Thomasville’s Historic Districts. Although the grand hotel era ended with the extension of the railroad into southern Florida, Thomasville and Thomas County have continued the long-standing tradition of cultural and economic diversity and the preservation of the area’s rich heritage.
Thomasville’s Notable People & Places
Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper
Henry Ossian Flipper was born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856. He was the eldest of five children, born to Festus and Isabella Flipper. In 1874, he became the fifth black man accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was often ostracized by the other cadets and had little interaction or support from the other white cadets, yet he preserved and became the first black man to graduate from West Point in 1877. He accepted a commission as second lieutenant to Company A of the Tenth United States Cavalry in 1878. He first reached Fort Still, Oklahoma, where he designed and supervised the creation of drainage to the “malarial ponds,” which saved hundreds of enlisted lives. To this day, Flipper’s Ditch still operates and has been a historic landmark since 1977. Also in 1977, the Henry O. Flipper Award was created at West Point and is presented to the graduating cadet who exhibits “leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance in the face of unusual circumstances.” Lt. Henry Flipper’s remains are interred at the Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper Historic Cemetery, located at 804 North Madison Street.
Charlie Ward, Jr.
1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, Jr. is a native of Thomasville and graduate of Thomas County Central High School.
After he graduated from Florida State University, Ward by-passed the NFL and played professional basketball for the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets before retiring in 2005. His Heisman Trophy, earned playing quarterback for the Seminoles, is on display at the Thomas County Public Library.
General Lloyd James Austin, III (Ret.)
Four-Star Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a Thomasville native, became commander of the US Central Command in March 2013. He was responsible for U.S. military operations in 20 nations from Egypt, east to Pakistan and north to Kazakhstan. Gen. Austin was the 33rd Army Vice Chief of Staff from 2012- 2013. His remarkable career has spanned 40 years including service as Dir. of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Commander of Fort Bragg, and head of the Multinational Corps in Iraq second in command to Gen. David Petraeus. He received a Silver Star for the Iraq invasion in 2003, and is the first African-American to command combat troops. A 1971 graduate of Thomasville High School, he was commissioned an Infantry Second Lt. after graduation from the US Military Academy at West Point. General Austin retired in 2016.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, in November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy chose to stay on a Thomasville plantation. She arrived in February 1964 and was the guest of Mrs. John Hay Whitney of Greenwood Plantation. She attended mass at St. Augustine Catholic Church (now All Saints Episcopal Church).
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Eisenhower visited Thomasville five times between 1952 and 1961. In 1956, he visited to rest after an illness and to decide whether or not to run for a second term. The local Glen Arven Country Club, one of America’s oldest, was a favorite golf course of the president.
Actress Joanne Woodward
Joanne Woodward was born in Thomasville in February 27, 1930. The Thomasville native won an Oscar for her role in The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and was the wife of the late actor Paul Newman.
Actor Scott Wilson
A distinguished actor with a career spanning six decades, Scott Wilson was born and raised in Thomasville. His debut film was In the Heat of the Night in 1967 but he is more recently known for his role as Dr. Hershel Greene in The Walking Dead.
WPAX Radio Station
WPAX is the third oldest radio station in Georgia and the twentieth oldest radio station in the United States. Its first air date was in 1922.
The Thomasville History Center
The Thomasville History Center has the second-oldest known private bowling alley in the country. It was built of heart pine lumber in 1896.
Pinetree Boulevard is the oldest perimeter road in the United States. It was originally established as a “country drive” for visiting Northerners in the late 1800s. It is situated 2.5 miles from the center of town.