Toombs County was created in 1905, carved out of parts of Emmanuel, Montgomery and Tattnall counties. It was named in honor of Robert Toombs, who served Georgia in the U.S. Senate and was briefly Confederate secretary of state.
The county seat is Lyons; Vidalia is the largest town. It was named by the daughter of the man who built the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery Railroad, and is a contraction of ``via dalia,'' for ``by way of the dahlias.''
Toombs County is also home to Santa Claus, a community of about 154 people. It is visited each December by people who want to have their Christmas cards postmarked there. Vidalia is known worldwide as the home of the Vidalia Onion.
Vidalia is governed by a mayor, Ronnie A. Dixon, and five city councilmen.
There are five county commissioners serving the citizens of Toombs County; the chairman of the commission is James Thompson.
According to a 1990 census, there were over 24,000 citizens in the county, with over 11,000 living in Vidalia and approximately 4,000 living in Lyons.
The population is about 71 percent white and about 71 percent are over the age of 18.
Toombs County has two public school systems, a county system and Vidalia city schools. Four campuses constitute the Vidalia city schools: a primary, an elementary, a middle school and high school. The Toombs County school system also has four schools. There is also a private school, the Robert Toombs Christian Academy.
Meadows Memorial Hospital in Vidalia is a 130-bed facility which serves both regional and local health care needs. It provides emergency medical service and five emergency ambulances on standby provide 24-hour coverage. There are 26 active, full-time physicians on the hospital staff.
The Tombs County Health Department, which offers a variety of services and is headquartered in Lyons, also has a satellite office in Vidalia which is open each Wednesday.
Toombs County has two recreation departments, one in Vidalia and one in Lyons, which provide a number of activities including sports and swimming. The private Vidalia Country Club has a golf course, and a new, public golf course will open this fall.
The Vidalia Onion Festival is held in late spring, celebrating the onion so sweet it can be eaten like an apple.
The 10-day event features an onion cook-off, an onion-eating contest, an onion run, a beauty pageant, sports tournaments, an airport exhibit, a street dance, and arts and crafts displays. Thousands of people attend the annual celebration. For the first time this year, Vidalia hosted the Southeast Georegia Regional Sozp Box Derby, the winner of which goes to Akron, Ohio, to compete in the national finals. Next year's derby will be held in late June.
The Vidalia Onion Story takes root in Toombs County, Georgia over 60 years ago, when a farmer by the name of Mose Coleman discovered in the late spring of 1931 the onions he had planted were not hot, as he expected. They were sweet!
It was a struggle to sell the onions at first, but Mose persevered, and managed to sell them for $3.50 per 50-pound bag, which in those days was a big price.
Other farmers, who through the Depression years had not been able to get a fair price for their produce, thought Coleman had found a gold mine. They began to follow suit, and soon after, their farms were also producing the sweet, mild onion.
In the 1940's, the State of Georgia built a Farmer's Market in Vidalia, and because the small town was at the juncture of some of South Georgia's most widely traveled highways, the market had a thriving tourist business. word began to spread about "those Vidalia onions". Consumers, then, gave the onions their famous name.
Reorders were made, and "Vidalia Onions" began appearing on the shelves of Piggly Wiggly and A & P grocery stores.
Through the 1950s and 60s, production grew at a slow but steady pace, reaching some 600 total acres by the mid 1970s. At that point, a push was made for Vidalia Onions to be distributed throughout the nation, and several promotional efforts were begun. Onion festivals became an annual event in both Vidalia and nearby Glennville, Georgia, and production grew tenfold over the next decade.
In 1986, Georgia's state legislature passed legislation giving the Vidalia Onion legal status and defining the 20-county production area. The Vidalia Onion was named Georgia's Official State Vegetable by the state legislature in 1990.
In 1989, Vidalia Onion producers united to establish Federal Marketing Order No. 955 for the crop. This USDA program established the Vidalia Onion Committee and extended the definition of a Vidalia Onion to the Federal level. The Marketing Order provided a vehicle for producers to jointly fund research and promotional programs.
Beginning in 1990, technology borrowed from the apple industry was adapted to begin the controlled atmosphere (CA) storage of Vidalia Onions. Now some 20,000,000 pounds of Vidalia Onions can be put into CA storage for up to six months, thus extending the marketing of the Vidalias through the fall and into the holiday season.
In 1991, the Vidalia Onion Committee began to annually honor one individual with introduction into the Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame. The committee considers the recipient's character, reputation and overall contribution to the growth and success of the Vidalia Onion. Inductees must be a leader in one or more of the following areas: protecting and promoting the name of the Vidalia Onion; protecting and promoting the quality of the Vidalia Onion; advertising and promoting the Vidalia Onion; sales of Vidalia Onions and creative selling methods; or research and growth development of the Vidalia Onio