Some cities in the USA like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago get a lot of media coverage and rightly so. They are big and attractive and there’s a lot going on. There’s a different kind of going on in smaller towns, one that doesn’t get as much air time so when I was asked to write about my experiences in Thomaston, Georgia – population closer to 10 000 – I jumped at it. Thomason is one of many small towns doing their best to get noticed and I was happy to help. The full article (first published in The Upson Beacon on 29 July 2016) is re-reprinted below.
The Kindness of Strangers in Thomaston – Overwhelming
Sometimes you find yourself in a place and you don’t know why. It was like that when I arrived in Thomaston, Georgia. I was planning a road trip inland from the Georgia coast to Nashville, Tennessee when I was drawn to a photograph on the Air BnB site of an elegant white colonial revival home built in Thomaston in 1922 with a front porch and rockers and 2 acres of lawn and mature trees. The fact that it was called Ms. Annie’s was the clincher.
Once I had decided to stay in Thomaston, I did some research and I was intrigued that the town had been chosen as one of the Top 100 Small Towns in America because of its slow-paced southern charm and hospitality. According to a 2002 article, Thomaston is the perfect place for those “looking to raise a family in a storybook American town.” I liked the sound of that even if I was not going to be there long enough to raise a family.
Thomaston is laid out with parallel streets running north and south, east and west, and a central square where the majestic Courthouse presides over the town. Around the square are the cafes and stores that are typical of many town centres but Thomaston also has a rather wonderful art deco style Ritz Theatre and Cafe where you can watch new releases or classics from plush red seats and enjoy Amy’s legendary chicken salad. Further around the square, the work of local artists is on display in the art gallery and cavernous antique shops offer a tantalising array of treasures and curios. There’s parking all round the square too, always a bonus for visitors.
I was thankful that only a few of the 10 000 residents were out and about when I arrived and drove the wrong way round Thomaston’s one-way streets. I came face to face with a white SUV whose driver waited, without using her horn, and smiled encouragingly while I corrected my mistake. A great example of slow-paced southern charm that completely won me over.
At Ms, Annie’s, I settled into the Red Hat room and learned more about Annie from Roger, the proud owner of this charming and historical home. Then I walked back into town to find something to eat. A gentleman leaving his office stopped and directed me to a restaurant that I would not have found on my own. I ate homestyle southern food and plenty of it and I felt the warm glow that comes from feeling like a local rather than a tourist. I had the same feeling the following day when I was fortunate enough to have a local guide to show me around Thomaston and its environs.
Sylvia Winters is a Thomaston native who remembers when passenger trains stopped at the station and almost everyone worked for one of the several textile mills in town. We drove down wide country roads lined with tall green trees and caught glimpses of rivers and mountain trails and shady camping spots. I wasn’t surprised to learn that fishing, hiking, canoeing and mountain biking attract many visitors to the area. We stopped at the photogenic Auchumpkee Creek Covered Bridge built in 1892 and rebuilt in 1997 and I recalled the story I had heard the day before in the art gallery about four cart horses that had pulled the bridge back to its original spot when it was swept away in a flood. All of the horses died later after being struck by lightning and were buried on the property where they had lived.
Within a 30 minute drive from Thomaston are the beautiful Callaway Gardens, Roosevelt State Park, and the historic Little White House the personal retreat of Franklin D. Roosevelt during his presidency. For nearly two decades, he bathed in the nearby warm springs to ease his paraplegia.
I would have loved to have let the warm springs work their magic on my travel-sore muscles.
We ate lunch in Woodbury at a cafe with exposed brickwork, a pressed tin ceiling and an excellent menu. With its quirky decor and great food, it was a charming discovery in a small (population less than 2000) town. In the late afternoon, we drove to Rock Ranch an adventure playground and campground with a zip lines, a corn maze, paddle boats, train rides, a petting zoo and a very popular tiny town for children to explore. Later, I joined Sylvia and Roger,the owner of Ms Annie’s, for fish and seafood fresh from the Gulf and served in what can only be described as a beachcomber hut, a very comfortable one with lines of hungry people regularly lined up outside.
Thomaston may be a small town but it’s well connected. It’s handily located an even distance from three of Georgia’s major cities – Atlanta, Macon and Columbus – with easy access to US Route 19 and State Route 3, which run north and south, and State Routes 36 and 74, which run (more or less) east and west. It’s well served by accommodation for all budget levels and has all the amenities and shopping/restaurant outlets you may need during your visit.
The next day, as I was leaving Thomaston, a parting gift from Roger of a box of pastries from the local baker balanced on the front seat, I stopped for gas and an unexpected and animated conversation about cricket with the owners of the Country Corner store. When they realised that I was a Kiwi, they promised me that they supported the New Zealand team when theirs (India) wasn’t playing and I believed them. Why wouldn’t I? I’d been overwhelmed by southern charm and hospitality in Thomaston and this was just another example.
Categories: An American Adventure