Our Town: McDonough

Henry County residents get happy when they see red this time of year.

Springtime incites the crimson blooms of geraniums around the McDonough square. The plants that were donated to the city in the early 1980s are the focus of one of the area’s most popular events, The Geranium Festival (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today ), as well as a way the city sets itself apart.

“When Ogilvie Products said they wanted to provide us with geraniums around the square, it was a godsend,” said McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland.

“I was concerned we didn’t have enough identity in McDonough, other than a beautiful square. Now we have a copyright and are known as the Geranium City.”

Copeland comes from five generations of Henry Countians, many of whom helped build McDonough, including Copeland’s great uncle H.J. Copeland who built the east side of the square in 1897, four years after the city was incorporated. Copeland’s cousin Ted still owns two buildings there. The mayor not only leads the political life of the city, but he's also a fount of local history knowledge who enjoys sharing real-life stories from the past with residents.

“At any Main Street McDonough program ribbon cutting or façade presentation, Mayor Copeland will always take a few minutes to give the current business owner a history of that particular building, such as who owned it through the years, what types of businesses have operated at that location, and any funny stories he recalls from his youth pertaining to the building,” said the city’s Media Relations Specialist, Casey Case. “Everyone tells the mayor he needs to write a book.”

Copeland elaborates on the past in a very 21st century way, through his Facebook page.

“Today I had the opportunity to attend a ribbon cutting for McDonough Taxi, which is located at 39 Keys Ferry Street,” the mayor wrote in a May 11 post. “I shared with the proprietor Andrell White and his family that the building housed Collum’s TV Sales and Service in the late 1940s.”

The Geranium Festival is the biggest annual fundraiser for the McDonough Lions Club that draws thousands of visitors. As one of the founding members of the club, Copeland has seen the event grow from a small arts and crafts show with 17 vendors in 1977, to more than 400 on Saturday.

"It takes every Lion to make it work," he said, adding that most show up at 3 a.m. the day of the event. “This year, the plants are redder than ever. When I was a little kid, my grandmother raised geraniums. I never would have dreamed that 60 years later we’d have people coming to town for a celebration based around these gorgeous plants."