Metcalfe, a farming community eight miles southeast of Thomasville, was settled in 1887 and awarded a charter in October, 1889. It was a railroad “boom town,” half-way between Thomasville and Monticello, Florida. The railroad consortium known as The Plant System built the new line, intended to haul important agricultural commodities to the Port of Savannah via the Thomasville interchange. Although much consideration was given to naming the new town “Lilly-Mitchell” after the two largest property owners, the founders settled upon Metcalfe in honor of Dr. John T. Metcalfe, a winter resident from New York.
Within one year of its founding, the structural manifestations of a living community were in place. First came the railroad depot, followed shortly by a school, church, a small strip of stores, homes, numerous farms and eventually a courthouse. With these necessities in place, Metcalfe became a fully-functioning municipality. However, its governing charter was revoked in the early 1920s. A dispute between Georgia and Florida about cattle ticks caused a fence to be built on the Georgia-Florida state line that severely affected commerce. Nonetheless, Metcalfe continued to exist as home to several hundred people, many of whom would become the leaders of Thomas County a generation later.
A community is nothing if not for its inhabitants. The population of Metcalfe reflected that of southwest Georgia, a mix of people from European and African heritage that worked the land, raised families, and formed a community.
Although agricultural, the formal education of their children was of paramount importance to the first generation of Metcalfers. The second generation of those born into founding families harnessed their education into successful businesses and political careers in both Metcalfe and Thomasville. The African-American citizens of Metcalfe, despite the limitations of statewide Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation, formed their own vibrant cultural community that was well-known for their elaborate Fourth of July celebrations during Metcalfe’s early years.
The most recognizable buildings in Metcalfe are the small strip of commercial buildings along Metcalfe Road. The strip includes the building that contained the first Commercial Bank, that later became Harvell’s Store. Nearby are the Baptist and Methodist churches and several old farm buildings.
The private residences and churches of Metcalfe have been well maintained. After Metcalfe lost its charter in 1923, several of the commercial and public buildings fell into disrepair for an extended period, some to this day. The Courthouse was put up for auction in 2004; after a failed attempt to turn it into a beauty salon, the Courthouse was to be demolished until the Thomas County Historical Society’s members saved the building with a fundraising campaign. It was moved to the Museum of History grounds, where it has been restored and available to the public, allowing the story of Metcalfe to be shared by many.
Currently, the Metcalfe Heritage Society is working with Thomasville Landmarks to find adaptive reuses of the buildings along Metcalfe Road, the first being the original Commercial Bank building which has already been adapted for modern use.
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