Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/December 1885/Thomasville as a Winter Resort
By E. L. YOUMANS.
As the winter season approaches in the Northern States and in Canada, with its dangers to many and its discomforts to all, the question will be often asked, "Where shall we go to secure the best advantages of a milder climate?" The obvious, and with many the sufficient, answer will be, "Go South, where it is warmer." This may be satisfactory for the numerous and increasing class of well-to-do, leisurely, and healthy people who seek a change of climate purely as a matter of personal enjoyment. They are simply in quest of pleasurable sensation, and their instincts may be trusted to find the nicest places with luxurious accommodations, ample amusements, social gayety, and whatever can make the time pass pleasantly; and when they get tired of one place they can find another with fresh novelties and attractions. But, wherever they go, these people are extremely useful. They constitute the great mass of the patrons of Southern winter resorts. Their numbers each year are rapidly augmenting, and the money they spend contributes materially to promote those increasing facilities of travel, hotel-accommodations, and town-improvements of which all share the advantage.
But there are a good many others to whom the question, where to go to escape the inclemencies of a Northern winter, is less simple and more serious. These are invalids laboring chiefly under various forms of pulmonary trouble. When such are advised by the physician to seek a more congenial climate, the question where to go becomes urgent and often perplexing. Happy the patient advised to change his climate when the physician knows enough to give him intelligent instructions as to whither he shall proceed. Does he need a mild or a high temperature? a damp ami relaxing, or a dry and bracing air? an inland location, or the sea-side? a valley or a mountain? Should he try Bermuda, or Aiken, or Nassau, or St. Augustine, or Asheville, or any of the score of resorts recommended for pulmonary invalids V If the doctor settles the point, it is well; if not, the patient must take his chances and do the best he can to settle it for himself.
I found myself last year among those who are embarrassed by this question. With lungs badly out of order, everybody said I must escape the severities of a New York winter by going somewhere. I advised with several eminent pulmonary experts, who agreed that it might be a good thing to get away, but did not seem to think it made much difference where 1 went. I therefore consulted the books on American winter sanitary resorts, in order, in connection with what I had heard, to decide what course to take. The climate of Southern California has its undoubted claims which are well appreciated, but it is far away. Colorado has its advantages, but is liable to sudden and extreme changes, San Antonio, in Southwestern Texas, is unquestionably an excellent place, with its pure, invigorating air, its mild temperature, and absence of extreme cold, although fierce and frigid "northers" are liable to swoop down upon it with but little warning, and it is also a long way off—two thousand miles by rail. Florida is popular and has many attractions, but it is chiefly low, and is generally damp and malarial. No place is without its drawbacks; but, in looking over their various claims with reference to my own condition, I concluded at last that Thomasville, Georgia, promised to be as eligible as any, and thither I went.
I found the place eminently satisfactory, and, although without experience of other and rival localities, I am sure that Thomasville has advantages as a Southern residence in winter and spring which must give it increasing and decided prominence as it becomes better known. Of course, the transition from "North" to "South" in February—from bleak, stormy, ice-bound winter to the soft and sunny atmosphere and vernal aspects of flowery spring—is full of delightful sensation wherever experienced; while the change of environment in passing from a Northern to a Southern community for the first time, intensifies the pleasurable effect. But, besides this, I was much gratified by the special attractiveness of the place, and the promise it offered as a healthy residence.
Thomasville, the capital of Thomas County, Georgia, is located two hundred miles from the Atlantic coast, fifty-five miles from the Gulf, within twelve miles of the Florida border, and on the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad. It stands upon a ridge or plateau covered by extensive pine forests, and at a height of about three hundred and fifty feet above tide-water. It is an old town, with upward of four thousand inhabitants, pleasantly laid out with wide streets, and containing many noble and stately trees—one superb oak being worth going every day to see. The air is pure, dry, and balmy, from the all-encompassing pine woods, through which radiate many walks and diversified drives in all directions. There are half a dozen different kinds of churches, and several considerable hotels. The "Piney Woods Hotel" and the "Mitchell House" are large, new, and first-class. The former has a frontage of over four hundred feet, is three stories high, and with broad piazzas front and rear. It will accommodate three hundred guests, has all the modern accommodations and improvements, except an elevator, and is so thoroughly well kept as to lead to the remark, which I heard frequently made, that the "Piney Woods is the best hotel South." There are lesser hotels and numerous boarding-houses, of the merits of which I know nothing, but heard them very well spoken of. The weather in Thomasville I found mild and agreeable. It rains there often, and sometimes hard, but the sandy ground quickly dries. The average winter temperature is given at 54*55° Fahr., but it is not to be inferred that they have no cold weather there. They have at times heavy frosts and ice, and report a fall of snow once in the last fifteen years. But the "cold spells" are short, and the prevailing warm and sunny weather invites to out-of-door life, which is the main thing, for, as Dr. Felix Oswald says, consumption is a "house disease."
I do not suppose there are any magical healing powers for pulmonary invalids in the Thomasville atmosphere, but I should hesitate to say that it may not be very favorable to them. An old physician of the place, Dr. T. S. Hopkins, after twenty years' medical experience in the pine forests of Southern Georgia, speaks as follows upon this point in the "Atlantic Medical Register": "Having for many years, in my travels through this section of country, noticed the almost entire absence of consumption among the people, I addressed letters to a large number of physicians practicing in the district, asking them to report to me the number of cases of consumption coming to their knowledge during the previous years. I received replies from twenty engaged in active practice, and representing a population of fifty thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven. The total number of cases reported was three. I have no reason to doubt the honesty of this report. A climate in which the disease so rarely occurs is certainly worthy of a trial by those who have it." As for myself, I can by no means report "cured" at Thomasville; but my case was undoubtedly improved there. And, as I might have died in New York, just according to the danger of this contingency, Thomasville must be entitled to the credit of saving my life. At any rate, the trial was a good thing, and I esteemed myself fortunate in the place selected.
In the matter of recreations, which is of considerable hygienic importance in a sanitary resort, Thomasville is quite undeveloped. There are several well-equipped livery establishments, and there is a good deal of horseback-riding and carriage-driving on the excellent thoroughfares of the town and the pleasant roads through the woods and the farming country. But, though the prices are reasonable, this amusement is only for those who can pay for it. There was no bowling-alley last year, though one was promised for the ensuing season. Hut what is most needed of all in such a place is a gymnasium, where active and regular exercise may be taken to counteract the besetting evils of idleness, and as an indispensable means of improving the health. Our constitutions are made for activity, and only those who cultivate their bodily powers by systematic exercises really know what enjoyment there is in well-earned appetite and invigorated life. The facilities for simple but adequate gymnastic exercises do not cost much, and, while the large majority of visitors would probably not patronize them, they would yet be invaluable to many. In the absence of a regular gymnasium, however, I fell back on Wood's five-dollar "Parlor Gymnastics," which can be carried in a satchel and used anywhere, and which really answers a most excellent purpose. They have a Library Association at Thomasville, and a very pleasant readingroom, but a larger stock of books is much needed.
There was, however, one never-failing source alike of interest, amusement, and instruction, which, though not confined to Thomasville, very much alleviated the monotony of my stay; I mean the "colored brother." As an abstraction from much reading I had long known him; but it was different to come upon the negroes in concrete mass, in their habitat, so as to observe the attributes of the actual object in a composite state of society. This was all new to me, and, with my old abolition education of strong convictions and little real knowledge, I found extreme interest in studying the negro direct, as a social object-lesson. He is playing his new part as citizen, voter, politician, laborer, learner, litigant, and Christian, with curious and instructive results; and in observing his treatment in the courts, in getting the views of individuals, in looking into the colored schools, but, most of all, in attending the so-called religious services in the colored churches, a good deal of time was pleasantly and usefully occupied, and I came to the conclusion that the more Northern people go South and see for themselves the more they will know of those facts which it is very important they should better understand.