For years, the Roy and Deborah Thompson family has entertained countless visitors with acres and acres of Christmas decorations on the sprawling TMT Farms. The Thompsons have helped feed hundreds for the holiday season through donations of food by those who drive through their display.
This year is no different, except there is even more to see on the Old River Road North farm.
Of course, the Thompsons added more inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen and more. Of course, there are even more lights sparkling throughout the peaceful woodlands along the driveway. The Nativity scenes are still nestled among oaks, and the replica of a Western town still twinkles with Christmas flair.
This year, however, the Thompsons added some major attractions. A military-inspired display honors those who fought and are fighting for our country, and a replica of a piece of Statesboro's history brings a touch of nostalgia to the scene.
Snooky's restaurant, a long-time favorite with "locals" as well as Georgia Southern University students, is brought back to life on TMT Farms after having closed earlier this year. With owner Bruce Yawn's help and encouragement, Roy Thompson measured, inspected, and dreamed until an exact replica of the much-loved restaurant was erected on his property.
"There are a lot of deep roots," said Deborah Thompson, referring to a long time friendship between the two families.
Yawn wanted to preserve the history and memory of the restaurant, and Roy Thompson studiously used the "same brick, same metal on the roof, same plants in the flower bed" and of course, the original Snooky's sign.
Mannequins dressed to resemble the Yawns, original booths and a park bench from the site complete the display.
The displays seem to please visitors.
"People stop and roll down the windows and talk about their memories of Snooky's," Deborah Thompson said.
When Bruce's wife, Carol, saw it, "She said it brought her to tears," Thompson said.
Visitors turn onto the property and drive through lighted arches to the food donation drop-off booth, manned by friends and family members. There is no charge, but donations of canned goods or nonperishable foods are welcomed.
The food is donated to area families in need, and last year, the booth, which holds about 1,200 pounds of food at a time, was emptied 15 times, she said.
On a good night, more than 800 cars will drive through. A counter located near a replica train crossing (complete with train whistle) keeps track of visitors.
Drivers may cruise past the home of Thompson's daughter Jennifer McCranie, then circle back and go through the meandering woods, passing son Tyler Thompson's home, then on down to Roy and Deborah's abode. The twisting driveway takes visitors past Thompson's collection of antique cars, fire trucks, and heavy equipment; through his Western town, and among countless snowmen, angels, baby Jesus, crosses and of course, Santa.
"We've had people from Hazlehurst, Douglas, Soperton, Fitzgerald, Baxley and from all surrounding counties," Deborah Thompson said. "We had over 7,200 cars last year." Many vehicles were vans and buses. The Thompsons estimate there were between 60,000 and 70,000 visitors last year.
The Christmas fantasy land takes three months to complete, and the entire family, along with a few dedicated helpers, create the spectacular display. The light bill, split among three families, amounts to around $4,500.
It's is well worth it, she said.
"We've always loved Christmas, and loved to decorate," Deborah Thompson said.
When their grandchildren started school in Portal, the Thompsons became aware of a large need within the community. Some suggested they charge a fee for viewing the display, but the answer was no. However, asking for a voluntary donation of food has helped fill a great need within the community, she said.
"We have been able to give to several needy families," she said. "Really, this has become a ministry for us."
Coming from Statesboro, drivers will follow Lakeview Road to the intersection with Old River Road North, drive just over four miles, and will see the Thompsons’ farm on the right. The display will be open through the Christmas season.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.