Do you ever spy somewhere you want to go based only on a picture? Then do you decide to travel that direction? That’s exactly what my husband Keith and I did! We Googled things to do around the Valdosta, Georgia area. The beautiful Pebble Hill Plantation in Thomasville came up! Thank you to the Curator, Lori Curtis for allowing us to tour this wonderful property so I could write about it for you all!
Early History of Pebble Hill Plantation
Our tour began at the Visitor’s Center. The history of this beautiful property is divided into definitive timelines. The focus of the tour they offer today begins in the 1890’s. It is offered through the eyes of two women that owned the property and their lives.
The earliest history of Pebble Hill Plantation according to Pebble Hill Plantation history, “begins with the Georgia Land Lottery of 1820 and the opening of Southwest Georgia for European settlement. The land that became the heart of the plantation was purchased by Thomas Jefferson Johnson in 1825.”
Like many planters of this time period, Johnson began raising first cotton. He then introduced rice farming to the area. After he passed on in 1847, the plantation passed to his daughter Julia Anne.
She is the first of the strong willed women in the Pebble Hill Plantation story. Julia Anne managed the plantation along with her husband John Mitchell. Together in 1850 they built a plantation home. Designed by English architect John Wind, they called the plantation “Pebble Hill”.
After John Mitchell died in 1865 Julia Anne managed to hold onto the property. This was hard to do during what the Pebble Hill history refers to as “the chaotic period of reconstruction until her death in 1881.”
Thomasville becomes a winter haven
Like Keith and I fled to Florida for the warmth, in the late 1890’s, many northerners began heading to Thomasville. The area became a popular resort area. The town offered a nice climate and hotels. The southern plantations were available for low cost as hunter flocked to the area.
The City of Thomasville shares a bit of this resort history! ” As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800s, became known as the “Winter Resort of the South.” In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came to Thomasville for their health, breathing the pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments.”
The history explains that the northerners were joined by friends. They enjoyed hunting, fishing, and an active social life that included golf, horse racing and bicycling. Many northerners discovered it cost less to purchase land than rent hotel rooms. Then the wealthy families bought property and built grand Victorian mansions and plantation homes. Many were turned into “shooting plantations”.
Kate Hanna Ireland Harvey’s story
Our tour really circled around the history that began when Howard Melville Hanna purchased Pebble Hill in 1896. The property was in disrepair requiring immediate upkeep.
By 1901, when Mel gave the property to his daughter Kate Hanna Ireland, Pebble Hill was spruced-up. Kate was heiress to the M.A Hanna Company and was married to Robert Livingston Ireland and had two children, Elisabeth (Pansy) and Livingston (Liv). After he passed away she married Perry Williams Harvey.
Mel Hanna had already began to build up a prize-winning herd of Jersey cows that Kate would later increase. Historical information on the house shows she even went to the Isle of Jersey to select some of her breed stock. Soon she was winning high honors at livestock show. She shared milk, cream and butter with neighbors and workers that was produced at Pebble Hill Dairy.
While it was a winter retreat, Kate spent a lot of time here. She worked with Cleveland architect Abram Garfield in 1911 to build the Plantation Store. What is fascinating is that Abram Garfield is the son of President James Garfield!
Kate and Abram Garfield built several other buildings at Pebble Hill. When the house burned in 1934 with only the logia remaining, they redid it. The house was completed in 1936 before she passed on just a few months later.
Elisabeth “Pansy” Ireland Poe’s story
The property passed to “Pansy” after Kate’s death and we learned during our tour that she left the home much the same. She just added her own touches making the house her own.
Pansy was known far and wide as one of the premier sportswomen of her day. At one point we saw ribbons that our guide said are enough to decorate a Christmas tree! In fact each Christmas they use the ribbons for that purpose.
The history of the house shares, “She loved horses and hounds and all of the events that revolved around them. She rode her hunter/jumper Showmaid at the Grand National Horseshow in 1929 winning 1st place in her class. Pansy was one of the first women to play polo and participated as a member of both women’s and men’s teams.”
Besides Pebble Hill, she also owned property in Kentucky, England and Ireland where she raised horse. She also trained dogs as well. It was fascinating to learn that many well-known people visited Pebble Hill while Pansy was mistress. This included President Eisenhower who came to shoot with his Secretary of the Treasury, George M. Humphrey. We learned that Mr. Humphrey had been president of the M.A. Hanna Company, and his son married Pansy’s niece.
Governor Jimmy Carter also was a guest as well.
One amazing mural that Pansy had added to the home was by J. Clinton Shepherd. He painted murals for the Big Room and the Indian Room in Pebble Hill’s Main House.
Pebble House as a museum
It is thanks to Pansy that today Pebble Hill is a museum. Both Kate and Pansy (along with Pansy’s husband Parker Barrington Poe that she married later in life) had amazing art collections that are on display today.
During tours of the house you can also see antique furniture, china, equestrian paraphernalia and turn of the century carriages. The grounds are included in the tour price and you can view the beautiful property as well as the amazing Carriage House Museum!
There are still animals at the plantation and gardens and so much more. Check out their website to see all there is to see and do at this wonderful location where weddings and events are held!