Founded in 1891, Hahira—pronounced hay-hi-ra (with a southern drawl for extra emphasis)—became the center of activities when families would come to town for shopping, banking, haircuts, and a bite to eat.
Located in Lowndes County, 11 miles from Valdosta, cotton was the main crop until around 1915 when boll weevils spread throughout Southwest Georgia, destroying thousands of acres of cotton and causing financial ruin to most farmers. The strong family farms bounced back, and tobacco became the main crop.
Farmers also turned to a “sweeter crop” as the production of honey became a lucrative business. In the 1920s, with the establishment of The Puett Company, Hahira became known as the “Queen Bee Capital,” as this company supplied bees to farms across the U.S. and Canada.
Today, tobacco has fallen in production—as it has across the U.S.—and honey has become less of a commodity in Lowndes County. According to the 2015 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report, Lowndes ranks 14th in tobacco production and Clinch and Colquitt counties rank the top producers of honey in Georgia.
Part of Hahira’s growth has been attributed to the railroad that provided the primary means of transporting goods including cotton and tobacco.
Hahira Mayor Bruce Cain remembers the old train depot on Main Street and the importance of the train stopping in Hahira.
“The main part of town was built along the railroad track; it was how we sent and received goods and materials,” Cain said. “The railroad was a big part of this community…it was the interstate of that time.”
Trains still run through Hahira; however, the depot was demolished decades ago when trains no longer stopped in Hahira and other small cities along the route.
Many years later, former city manager and mayor Perry Leland Clanton helped bring a red caboose to the site where the depot once stood. Today, the caboose serves as a landmark and reminder of the important part the railroad played in Hahira’s history and economic growth.
Several years ago, city officials began to discuss ways to bring the train depot back, as part of a new park and outside venue project.
“It started as a park project, and then everyone started talking about wanting a train depot first,” said Keith Barrett, principal architect and vice president with Altman + Barrett Architects located in Hahira. “It has become a multi-phase project with the train depot being constructed in phase one and the park, splash fountain, and a veteran wall will come later.”
On April 21, 2017, the city broke ground on the train depot project, which Barrett designed to incorporate modern functionality while retaining historical elements.
“I looked at photos of the original train depot and took as many details that I could to make it similar but then purposed the building for what is needed now,” said Barrett. “We wanted the depot to match the original depot as historically as possible.”
Scheduled for completion in November, the 7,500-square-foot train depot will include an outside stage area for concerts, a multi-purpose area for events and meetings, and a shelter to house the city’s historic fire truck.
Cain believes the train depot will help Hahira to continue to grow and attract more businesses to the area.
“We’ve had new businesses opening, and we hope to attract more,” Cain said. “We are thankful for the businesses we have in Hahira. Many of them, like our banks, have been here for decades. The banks represent a good sign for Hahira; they represent a strong economic interest.”
Citizens Community Bank is one of Hahira’s oldest businesses and still maintains its headquarters in Hahira.
“Hahira was a booming tobacco market when the bank started in 1927,” said Glenn Copeland, CEO Citizens Community Bank. “It was founded by D.K. Hollis Sr., who was from Hahira. He was a farmer and businessman. Being a community bank was important, and that’s why we have ‘community’ in our name.”
Copeland said plans are underway to renovate the Hahira branch with a train depot theme.
“There is a lot happening here, and it is now time that we put an investment in Hahira,” Copeland said about the bank’s plans for renovations. “Hahira is probably the fastest growing part of the northern tier of the county. We started in Hahira and will continue to be part of this community.”
Commercial Banking Company (CBCBank) is also located in downtown Hahira and has a long history within the community.
“CBCBank is a proud member and supporter of Hahira,” said Marketing Coordinator and Banking Officer Ashley Mock. “We are excited to see the growth of the downtown area and look forward to our continued involvement in the community.
Mock said that CBCBank has provided more than 80 years of quality, locally owned community banking that meets the product and service expectations of its customers.
“Commercial Banking Company was chosen for the opportunity to diversify the overall business mix and we elected banking as a way to make a positive impact on our surrounding communities by providing financial services,” Mock said. “Bobby Wetherington built a solid foundation for the bank and the Langdale family is proud to continue to give back to the South Georgia communities.”
Currently, more than 100 businesses have licenses to operate within the city limits of Hahira.
To assist the growth of current and future businesses, the Hahira City Council provides financial support to the Hahira Merchants Association (HMA), which is a group of volunteers that stewards a portion of the City of Hahira budget dedicated to Main Street activities. Members of the HMA plan and execute events, coordinate marketing efforts, and help to recruit new businesses.
Vicki Rountree, who opened Monkey Britches Boutique in 2015, serves as president of the HMA. She said the promotion of events is a big part of the association’s mission; however, recruitment of new businesses is equally important.
“We don’t want to be known for just having festivals,” Rountree said. “We are a growing community and want to offer to our resident’s everything a family needs to live here.”
One of the community’s best-known and largest event is the Hahira Honey Bee Festival, which is celebrating its 36th year. Organized by an independent group of volunteers, the festival draws approximately 30,000 visitors annually.
Although the Hahira Honey Bee Festival is the city’s oldest festival, Rountree said the HMA is working to develop new events that will continue to promote Hahira and its businesses throughout the year.
“Last year we hosted an Independence Day celebration, which I think will quickly become one of our biggest events,” she said. “We also have Springfest the third weekend in April to promote the arts.”
The HMA also sponsors a Father’s Day Car Show, Easter Festival, and Holiday Open House.
“The purpose of the events is to promote our community and bring more people to Hahira,” Rountree said. “The events showcase what we have, and it’s working. We see a lot of interest from businesses that want to open in Hahira.”
With professional services including a veterinarian, architects, banks, and dentists located in Hahira, Rountree wants to recruit businesses that can fill the void.
“We need a men’s clothing store and restaurants that are open at night,” she said. “Hahira is growing, but we still have some voids to fill.”
Last year, to assist in the preservation of downtown and recruitment of new businesses, the City of Hahira formed the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
“The purpose of the DDA is to help renovate the downtown area by assisting current and future businesses with securing low-interest loans,” Cain said. “We are looking at creating a historic district, a small area that doesn’t place rules and regulations on the businesses but will help in keeping the historical look.”
Hahira’s growth isn’t all business. The residential expansion has played a significant role in the community’s growth.
“In the past several years we’ve had two subdivisions constructed,” Cain said. “So even though we haven’t extended our city limits our population has expanded.”