Rose Festival Has Deep Roots in Thomasville

April 27, 2012 by Julie Montanaro

The Thomasville Rose Show and Festival is fast approaching its 100th anniversary.

We stopped at the Thomas County Museum of History to flip through photos and clippings and learn more about how it got its start.

Ann Harrison, the executive director of the Thomas County Historical Society, says it all started 91years ago with a prize winning canner.

Lilla Forrest - and her canned vegetables - won the grand prize at the 1920 state fair. What she did with her $25 dollar winnings is part of Thomasville history.

"She donated it to the Thomasville Garden Club and that was the beginning of the funding for the rose show," Harrison said. "That was 1920. The first show was in the windows of Neel's Department Store in '21."

"Has the show been going strong all these years?"

"Very strong up to World War Two. In World War Two they held some small shows to raise some money for the war effort, but it seriously impeded the show. So they revitalized it in '48 by adding the parade, adding a rose queen and plantation tours which you can imagine were very popular."

She pointed to a photo tucked in to a file folder labelled 1948. "This is Will Watt who was the mayor of Thomasville presenting the key to the city to Miss Doris Gothard who was the first rose queen."

"You had the plantations with incredible gardens. Millpond Plantation had 600 yards of roses. So they had professional gardeners on staff and the Hjort family established a rose test garden here where people come from all over the country to see the roses," Harrison said.

"So when did Thomasville earn the name of the rose city?"

"That's still up for debate. We have diaries going back to the 1880's where they're talking about the roses grown in Thomasville," Harrison said. "We have a license plate on a car from '27 when it's called the city of roses. So at least back to the '20's it had been designated the city of roses."

The Thomas County Museum of History is showing old home movies of the Rose Parade from years gone by. They show floats, rose queens and little Miss Sunbeams rolling down Broad Street. Some of the movies date back nearly 50 years.