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picture strip 1Picture strip 2A Short History of Pebble Hill Plantation

The history of Pebble Hill Plantation starts 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.  Johnson became a typical Southern Planter, raising first cotton and then introducing rice farming to the area.  Upon Johnson’s death in 1847, the plantation passed to his daughter Julia Anne who managed the plantation along with her husband John Mitchell. In 1850 a lovely plantation home, designed by English architect John Wind, was built by the Johnsons.  “Pebble Hill” became the plantation’s name around this time. John Mitchell died in 1865 and Julia Anne struggled on with the property during the chaotic period of reconstruction until her death in 1881.  The history of Pebble Hill in the nineteenth century revolves around the Johnson family.

By the mid-1880’sThomasville was developing into a popular winter resort where wealthy northern industrialists hoped to escape the cold winters in cities likeNew York,ChicagoandCleveland. Many came for “the season” and stayed inThomasville’s elegant hotels; others purchased land and began yearly pilgrimages to the area.  Over the next twenty years or so, hundreds of thousands of acres of working farm land were transformed into “Shooting Plantations.” It was to these shooting plantations that the new owners came to hunt, ride, entertain, and relax during the winter months.

In 1896 Cleveland’s Howard Melville Hanna purchased Pebble Hill and the land passed into the hands of the plantation’s second great family. Three Hanna family members owned the property.  Howard Melville Hanna (Mel) gave the property to his daughter Kate in 1901.  Upon Kate’s death in 1936, Pebble Hill passed to her daughter Elisabeth (known to everyone as Miss Pansy).  Pansy was mistress of Pebble Hill until her death in 1978. Pansy decided around 1950 that she would like for Pebble Hill to become a museum open for all to enjoy.  To that end she formed a trust to receive the property upon her death and set aside an appropriate endowment. The museum opened in1983.

Museum boards restore historic properties to a particular time period and informational materials emphasis events of that period.  At Pebble Hill the restoration period covers approximately 1915 through 1960.  This period includes most of Kate’s major modern building projects and her establishing the lifestyle patterns, the grand entertaining and the traditions that were so much a part of Pebble Hill Plantation.  The period ends with Miss Pansy the sportswoman, her love of horses and dogs, and the planning for the museum.

Mel Hanna was drawn to Southwest Georgia and encouraged to put down roots by his brother Marc and his cousin, C.M. Chapin.  Chapin sold Melrose Plantation to Mel for $5 in1896.  Later that year Mel purchased the adjacent property, Pebble Hill.  Like much of the property in the area, Pebble Hill was in such a state of disrepair that Mel was required to begin a program of restoration immediately.  By 1901, when Mel gave the property to his daughter Kate Hanna Ireland, Pebble Hill was cleaned-up, spruced-up and looking like a proper Hanna property.  Mel began to build up a prize-winning herd of Jersey Cows and the stables were filled with “good” horse.

Kate loved the plantation and set about making it the perfect winter retreat.  Kate was the great builder at Pebble Hill. She secured the services of Cleveland architect Abram Garfield in 1911 to build the Plantation Store. Over the next 30 years Kate and Garfield worked together planning and building all the major structures on the plantation.  Their last major project was the spectacular Main House completed early in 1936. 

Kate set the tone. Life at Pebble Hill was gracious and comfortable, lived in beautifully appointed surroundings where good taste and social correctness were the norm. Hunting, picnicking, golfing, fishing and other outdoor activities were enjoyed along with afternoon tea, reading, sewing, elegant dining and good conversation. She loved the Jersey cows and improved the herd by going to the island of Jersey to select her stock.

Humanitarian Kate hired locals and provided job with on the job training, if needed, for folks in the economically depressed area.  She provided nursing service and well furnished housing for her employees along with a school for their children. Christmas and Easter celebrations were provided for all, with gifts and games surrounding large holiday dinners.

Miss Pansy continued the lifestyle and the traditions began by her mother.  Pansy was known far and wide for her largess, her community spirit, her amicable personality and her respect for the dignity of all people. When asked by a friend what she found most interesting and important at Pebble hill, her answer was “the people.”

Pansy was also one of the premier sportswomen of her day.  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.  She bought Shawnee Farms inKentucky where she raised champion thoroughbred racehorses. Additionally, Pansy owned a breeding and training operation inIreland from which her horses won major races in theUnited Kingdom. She took her dogs to field trials here in theU.S. where she was an avid and winning participant.

Miss Pansy put in place all that was necessary for Pebble Hill to become a museum.  The art collections of both Kate and Pansy are highlighted in the exquisite Main House.  Additionally, Pebble Hill Museum contains splendid collections of antique furniture, china, equestrian paraphernalia and turn of the century carriages.  Members of the Board of Trustees and the staff at Pebble Hill invite you to visit the legacy Miss Pansy left for all to enjoy.

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