Knowledgeable georgians will tell you there were actually two Yankee invasions of their state: the first when General Sherman and his army burned much of it down during his infamous March to the Sea, and again twenty years later when a bunch of rich Yankees began to buy up the choicest parts that remained at fire-sale prices.
There were two types of these people: “Water Yankees” with names like Vanderbilt, Morgan, Rockefeller, Astor, and Carnegie who snapped up beachfront properties on Georgia’s Sea Islands; and then “Woods Yankees,” who arrived in South Georgia with the railroad and cajoled the devastated Southerners out of their pristine quail-hunting lands for pennies on the acre.
There among the tall pines and broomstraw fields, these Yankees built vast plantations of ten thousand acres or more, where they whiled away the mild winters of the late 1800s and early 1900s. A surprising number of their descendants live there to this day, occupying the hundred or so of these great plantations that remain, which explains why a place like Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear and Apparel can not only exist, but thrive, in a town like Thomasville, Georgia, which, but for the business of quail hunting, might have stayed what it was in the beginning, namely a switch up the railroad track where they once grew cotton.
Instead, Thomasville is chic. Not Palm Beach chic. Not Madison Avenue chic. Not Southampton chic, but nice, easy, small-town chic like, say, St. Michaels, Maryland, or Aiken, South Carolina, or Middleburg, Virginia.
The Historic Coalson Plantation & Inn in Thomasville, dating from the 1820s, is chic; and so is Liam’s Restaurant, but chicest of all is Kevin’s, because who on earth would expect in this land of the great Okefenokee Swamp you would find an establishment offering everything from a $400 Barbour jacket, to a $5,000 Purdey hunting knife, to a $120,000 shotgun?
When Kevin Kelly says his store sells “fine outdoor gear and apparel,” he casts a wide net. If, for instance, you are into collecting old outboard motors, he can sell you one of the first models ever made—a fully restored 1913 Waterman 2 hp for $12,000. Or for $7,000 you can pick up a 1922 Caille “Mud Devil,” complete with its original packing crate. Going fishing for mahseer in India? You’ll probably need a mahogany and canvas portable maharaja’s chair that will set you back $600—but it does pay to be comfortable.
Kevin and his mother, Betty Kelly, started their business thirty years back in nearby Tallahassee, Florida, and branched out to Thomasville just over a decade ago when they bought a building in the downtown historic district that began its life as a saloon in 1884.
Ever since, Kevin’s has been a gathering place for plantation owners, game managers, dog trainers, hunters, biologists, tourists with money to spend, and interesting locals who just like the homey, comfortable atmosphere on the main floor. Occasionally, Kevin and his wife, Kathleen, will hold one of his “customer appreciation” days, when he will throw a shrimp boil, an oyster roast, or a grouper fry—whatever is freshest locally. It’s not hard to see why Kevin’s was named the 2007 shooting-sports retailer of the year by SHOT Business, a shooting industry trade publication.
Located on the second floor at Kevin’s is the Fine Gun Room, which should make any red-blooded shooting enthusiast begin to salivate even as he climbs the stairs into this gunner’s paradise. There is the smell of good wood polish and gun oil amid the aura of some of the finest metal workmanship the world has ever seen. Impressive hunting-art originals adorn the walls above posh leather furniture, and soft, rich carpets muffle sound, which gives the place a sanctuary-like feel, almost as if someone were about to bring out the Hope Diamond. But it’s actually better than that, among the Holland & Hollands, Beretta SOs, Purdeys, L.C. Smiths, Parkers, Perazzis, and Winchesters. If our shooting enthusiast was salivating as he took the stairs, he has by now probably begun to drool; but not to worry—Kevin keeps a box of Kleenex beside the door.