There are 70-odd plantations around Thomasville, Georgia but only two are open to the public – Pebble Hill Plantation, now operating as a museum with a world-class art gallery and South Eden, recently opened as a Historic Hotels of America resort.
In the late 19th century, wealthy northern aristocrats came to south central Georgia to vacation. The former cotton fields in the area around Thomasville proved to be ideal for quail and dove, and turkey and deer abounded in the pine woods. They eventually bought up the impoverished antebellum cotton plantations for a few dollars per acre and transformed them into magnificent winter retreats and private hunting and sporting preserves. They would host visiting luminaries like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, presidents and future presidents, movie stars, and artists. A visit to these two plantations allows you a peek at their lavish lifestyles.
The two plantations are only two miles apart on the Thomasville Road. They were two of the three plantations purchased in 1898 by Mel Hanna, a shipping/mining/oil/steel tycoon from Cleveland, Ohio. He purchased them for his son and two daughters. To say money was no object for Hanna is not an exaggeration. After making extensive repairs, he gifted the property which is now South Eden to his son.
We visited the sister plantation, Pebble Hill, in the morning so lunch was on the agenda when we arrived at South Eden. We parked the car in a grassy area under a canopy of oak trees. Thank God they haven’t paved over everything but chosen to leave it rustic. The charming Cream of the Crop Café and Wine Bar is in one of the old plantation brick outbuildings. It has a great atmosphere and is beautifully redone with cypress and barn wood finishes. It was the perfect place for lunch and the food was wonderful.
I had the Turkey Trot Panini which was slow roasted turkey, topped with Gouda cheese, apple butter and finished with fresh arugula with a side of sweet potato salad. Normally I’m not a fan of anything sweet potato but this salad was marvelous.
My sister had the Goat Cheese Flatbread. It was made with creamy goat cheese, caramelized onions and finished with spinach and asparagus salad. The food was delicious and we had gracious Southern service.
After our meal, we had an opportunity to tour grounds and the old plantation house with Kimberly English from marketing.
As a historic, boutique resort the place is fabulous. The renovated buildings have a mix of old and modern with lots of the original features. In addition to the Cream of the Crop Café and Wine Bar, there is dinner restaurant, Harvest House that also serves a lavish Sunday brunch and Scarlett’s, a cute little bar that serves small plates.
There is an indoor heated pool dating back to the 1930s. There is also a little movie theater called the Show Boat Theater. The front façade looks like the stage set of the musical “Showboat,” complete with a gangplank entrance over a small pond. We were told that the first showing of “Gone with the Wind,” (even before its gala opening at the Fox Theater in Atlanta) played here at the request of its principal backer, Jock Whitney, a pal of the owners. Photos of Rhett and Scarlett adorn the pecky cypress walls of the little gem. The theater is again being used to show old movies or new ones by independent movie makers.
They have about 23 overnight accommodations, each room is for two guests.
We were shown the spa available to overnight guests and day visitors, an exercise/yoga space, and a soon-to-open gift shop. South Eden is a beautiful venue for a wedding.
South Eden Resort has gone through many reincarnations. In the 1820s it was a log cabin on the slave-holding cotton plantation of early settler, Paul Coalson. What we see today is a great house with a blushing pink complexion (the color of Georgia clay.) It sits on 38-acres of what was a 4 thousand acre plantation. But you can still get a taste of the lavish lifestyle of the turn-of-the-century rich and famous. You only have to murmur a request for a golf cart to whisk you around the grounds or a van to take you sightseeing or to one of the area’s fine golf courses. There are still shooting parties on the nearby plantations. South Eden Plantation Resort provides all the amenities to pamper its guests.