Thomasville, Georgia

Georgia | 1998 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 10/16/2008

Thomasville (pop. 18,500) had been one of the nation's most fashionable resorts after the Civil War, serving as a winter home for hundreds of wealthy northerners who enjoyed the warm climate, majestic oaks, and pine-scented air. Exquisite Victorian "cottages" and fabulous hotels were built in and around downtown to accommodate the influx of visitors. Architects who came to Thomasville to design these magnificent structures also designed many of the unique Victorian buildings downtown. In 1885 brick streets were laid downtown, which later accommodated the "horseless carriages" belonging to the affluent seasonal residents.

Thomasville was one of the first cities in the state to recognize the importance of historic preservation, and in 1964 a group of dedicated citizens formed Thomasville Landmarks, Inc. Their efforts concentrated on residential restoration and, as they surged ahead with documenting seven historic districts, Georgia was selected as one of the first state-wide Main Street projects by the National Trust Main Street Center. In 1981, Thomasville was selected to participate in the Georgia Main Street program.

The Thomasville Main Street organization began to help return downtown to its original splendor by peeling away dozens of layers of paint and metal false facades to reveal the hidden intricacies of the past. More than 100 buildings have been restored, rehabbed, and repainted to create a charming street of colorful storefronts.

As downtown began to rally, Wal-Mart announced the construction of a superstore just one mile from downtown. A concerted effort was waged to keep the "big box" out because of the concern about the negative impact it would have on downtown businesses; but the battle was lost. Instead of throwing in the towel, downtown merchants doubled their efforts, offering quality merchandise and unparalleled service. As marginal businesses began to close, energetic young entrepreneurs came onto the scene to take their place with exciting, new ideas. Slowly downtown evolved into a high-end specialty retail district, appealing not only to locals, but to shoppers within a 60-mile radius! Tallahassee, Florida, which had been pulling shoppers from Thomasville for years, suddenly discovered this great little downtown with dozens of interesting shops and restaurants. Today, more than 50 percent of downtown's sales come from Tallahassee shoppers.

The economic turn-around which has occurred downtown in the last five years is astounding. Over 20 downtown buildings have been purchased by local people. Rents and property values have climbed. The $2 million restoration of a five-story white elephant building shows confidence in downtown's future, as does the construction of a new local bank. A new medical facility has been built on an entire block in what was considered a declining area of downtown. Private investors recently restored the 1915 Post Office and converted it into a genealogical library, a welcome center, and the Main Street office. Since 1992, there have been 151 net new businesses created, 459 new jobs, and 101 buildings have had facade improvements. Private investment downtown totals more than $26 million. Tourism is at an all-time high and Thomasville Main Street's award-winning Victorian Christmas continues to bring in thousands of visitors during the holiday season. There is renewed interest and abundant pride in downtown by local residents, who proudly bring their guests to town to show it off.