In the mid 1800s, Captain Henry Harding Tift left his home in Mystic, Connecticut for South Georgia in search of timber that he hoped to harvest for his family’s shipbuilding business. What began as a business trip evolved into the creation of the town that would soon bear his name.
Once in South Georgia, Tift built a sawmill to prepare his newfound lumber and train tracks were built to ship it. This became the beginning of Tifton and as the area grew, Captain Tift adopted the same town layout that he knew from his hometown of Mystic, with even numbered streets running east and west on the north side of town and odd numbered streets running in the same direction on the south side of town. Rail lines ran through the town and soon came a courthouse, town hotel and other small businesses.
Later, churches, saloons, an opera house and movie theatres came and by the turn of the century, a thriving community had been formed in South Georgia. In 1906, the Myon Hotel was built and was soon tabbed as the nicest hotel south of Atlanta.
Roads were soon paved, the town’s first telephone system was installed and indoor plumbing was all the rage. The Tift Theatre was built in the center of town and nearly all of Tifton’s businesses were located within a 12-block area. The downtown area continued to grow through the first half of the 20th Century but things really changed when President Dwight Eisenhower proposed a new interstate road system that would allow travelers to get around the country more quickly. Interstate 75 was constructed and dissects Tifton a few miles west of the downtown area.
Like most cities that have an interstate nearby, more retail businesses and hotels cropped up near the interstate. A mall was constructed just off I-75 and Tift County took advantage of the additional daily traffic and tourism while other companies involved in trucking and logistics benefited from the access to north-south commerce that the interstate provided. Businesses in downtown Tifton were affected but rebounded well with the renovation of the Myon Hotel which became Tifton’s new City Hall and also added room for new downtown apartments, professional offices and retail space.
Other downtown businesses followed with the Myon renovation in the mid-1980s with the tax base growing each year. In recent years, the downtown area has added more apartments in renovated buildings, new retail shops and new restaurants. Near the interstate, commerce is also thriving as the intersection of Interstate 75 and Highway 82 remains one of Georgia’s busiest intersections south of Atlanta.
Smart and thoughtful long-range planning has been instrumental in the success that Tifton has had, dating back to the creation of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber moved to its current location at 100 Central Avenue at the site of the old Tifton Train Depot in the 1960s.