From meticulously decorated store windows to the local hotel dressed up in regional magnolia and pine, here’s how this historic town pulls off the most enchanting holiday in the South
Back in the early 1900s, Thomasville, Georgia, was the last stop on the railroad heading south, and this little town in the Red Hills region of the state was the ultimate destination for multitudes of wealthy Northerners looking to escape the cold winters, restore themselves with breaths of pine-scented air, and indulge in some quality quail hunting. Thomasville is still a hunting mecca (and still surrounded by pine), but over the course of the last decade, it has emerged as a different sort of hot spot—thanks not to its woods but instead to its walkable, quaint, brick-paved downtown. This eight-block area draws both day-trippers and nightlife enthusiasts with its growing list of innovative restaurants and locally owned one-of-a-kind shops. Beyond the bricks, streets lined with majestic live oaks and rows of gorgeously preserved and restored historic houses give this small town a timeless quality that shines especially bright during the Christmas season. We invite you to join us as we tour some of our favorite shops, dining spots, and more. You’ll want to steal a few of the locals’ tips and bring Thomasville’s festive, old-fashioned charm back home for the holidays.
A Storied Shop
The town’s independent bookstore, The Bookshelf, is where to pick up your next favorite read, unique greeting cards, and stocking-worthy toys for children
Owned by Annie Jones, The Bookshelf is a lively, friendly shop that regularly hosts readings, classes, book clubs, and events like “Cider Monday,” featuring in-store discounts and free hot cider in lieu of the more conventional Cyber Monday that follows Thanksgiving. “There’s something really magical about a small town at the holidays—when the shop is bustling and the streets are full of people. To be able to have a business on the main street contributing to that magic is my dream come true,” says Jones. Pop in during the weeks leading up to Christmas to grab a couple of last-minute gifts and to witness the shop transform its regular Saturday children’s story time into a festive, holiday-themed affair.
A Knitter’s Paradise
Fuzzy Goat is always buzzing, drawing in regulars from as far as 50 miles away who flock here to knit alongside friends in its cozy space
“ ‘Happy Happens Here’ is the motto painted on our sign, and we really believe that’s true,” says Cadence Kidwell, who opened this knitting and gift store three years ago when, in her mid-fifties, she realized she could either remain in the same old job or open a shop devoted to the craft she loves. Fuzzy Goat takes pride in featuring yarn from independent dyers, many of them located in the South, and drawing together people from all walks of life to celebrate the joy of making. At holiday time, the shop hosts trunk shows, installs a mailbox for letters to Santa Claus, and hosts a themed version of “Stitches and Stories” (their collaboration with The Bookshelf), where a group of knitters work away while also listening to an audiobook together.
A Gifter’s Gem
Loyal locals and design aficionados alike recognize that a box from Firefly means something special is tucked inside
Stocked with handmade goods from across the South and around the world, Firefly peddles gifts, tableware, toys, and home decor you truly won’t find anywhere else. Some items are exclusive to Firefly, making it the destination for finding rare and one-of-a-kind gifts. “I call presents ‘little happies,’ ” says owner Nan Myers, “because that is their purpose—making someone smile.” For a hostess gift, she loves giving Rococo Chocolates’ remarkably realistic chocolate-covered hazelnut praline “quail eggs.” For entertaining, she turns to Firefly’s deep freezer, which is stocked with Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, handmade in South Carolina. “I’m not a baker, but I can put those in the oven and throw a little flour on my face and pretend,” she says, joking.
A Sportsman’s Secret
A visit to this historic hunting town simply isn’t complete without a trip to one of its most popular spots: Harden’s Taxidermy
Apart from the Big Oak, the stuffed elk outside Harden’s Taxidermy just might be the most photographed object in Thomasville—and for good reason. He can be seen outside the shop year-round, but he’s especially irresistible when wearing a Santa hat. Though it’s primarily a working shop and only a limited number of the lifelike specimens guarding its walls and countertops are actually available for purchase, the sheer volume, quality, and array of critters—everything from zebras to aardvarks—make this a must-see. If you can’t walk out with a stuffed antelope, you can at least make a splash at Christmas this year by picking up a locally sourced rattlesnake belt or headband.
A Charming Stay
Thomasville’s premier hotel, The Paxton, offers exemplary Southern hospitality and a deep appreciation for the region’s natural charm
For the last three years, The Paxton hotel has been owned and operated by the Whitneys: Carol (a gracious and gregarious Savannah transplant with an extensive background in hospitality) and Charlie (a soft-spoken painter, antiques dealer, and restorer of old homes who is a fourth-generation Thomasville native). Years before owning The Paxton, he actually worked on its restoration. Located in the Tockwotten Historic District, a neighborhood featuring an impressive array of architectural styles, the hotel has 13 rooms (no two are alike) and three cottages. At Christmastime, there are trees in all the rooms and the common areas are decked in a classic mix of citrus, greenery, cotton, and feathers.
Each December, the Whitneys say thanks to approximately 50 of their friends, neighbors, and guests (some of whom have been visiting The Paxton for over 15 years) with a lavish oyster roast. “We’re only an hour and a half from the coast, so we just wheel down there, grab some oysters, and throw a party,” says Carol. “We used to do it out in the woods, but the magnolia tree out front just begs us to set up a table under it on a cool evening.”
In keeping with her “regional elegance” theme, Carol fills a large oyster-shaped bowl with pincushion flowers, hypericum berries, and hydrangeas, plus magnolia foliage, pinecones, cotton, and pheasant feathers. Rimmed with gold acrylic paint, oyster shells make a glamorous supplement to the centerpiece. Carol also turns the shells into ornaments by drilling holes in them and stringing with ribbon. “We always serve the oysters with crackers, a cocktail sauce, mignonette, and different hot sauces, because everyone has their own opinion on which one is the best,” explains Carol. After inheriting a set of silver oyster forks from her great-aunt from Charleston, South Carolina, Carol began collecting them, and she now has several sets in a variety of patterns.
Just as Carol likes to incorporate local ingredients into her cooking, she uses regional materials in her holiday decorating. The Paxton’s Christmas tree features rustic quail-feather balls from Singletary’s Flowers in Thomasville, simple bows made of velvet ribbon, clusters of cotton, pinecones, and magnolia leaves. The crown at the tree’s top is made simply by poking pheasant feathers into the branches.
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Make a Date with Thomasville
Here’s where to go for filling up, hanging out, and kicking back
For Eating and Drinking
The cheeses at Sweet Grass Dairy are popular, but their restaurant is the sleeper hit, offering an amazing burger and the best Sunday brunch in town.
Fuel up with house-roasted coffee, smoothies, salads, and delicious pastries at Grassroots Coffee.
If you’re wanting a white-tablecloth dining experience, trust Liam’s and Chop House on the Bricks.
For Special Gifts and Souvenirs
SouthLife Supply Co. is a go-to spot for holiday presents. While it’s known for its signature shotgun-shell accessories, you can also find goods such as handcrafted leather bags and belts and gorgeous jewelry with equestrian bits and rattlesnake skin.
When he’s not helping operate The Paxton hotel (or restoring old houses and Land Rover vehicles), Charlie Whitney collects antiques and sells his elegant finds at C.H. Whitney, his downtown shop, which doubles as his painting studio. Drop by to see his striking canvases, watch him at work, or even check out his 18th- and 19th-century furniture and accessories, including a beautiful collection of distinctive 18th-century Chinese-export porcelain pieces.