With all the anticipation of a new and modern law enforcement facility in Warner Robins being built on the corner of Watson Boulevard and Armed Forces Boulevard North, plans for the depot row buildings on the east side of the street continue to unfold.
The historic brick train depot now known as E.L. Greenway Welcome Center was placed on the list of National Historic Places in January 2008. Thanks to a Transportation Enhancement Grant, the goal is to have the Elberta Depot a few doors down from the welcome center open its doors for a peek in January 2013. The grant will restore the 1918 structure, originally located at the corner of Elberta Road and Ga. 247, to be used as a heritage museum.
Considering that construction of the railroad through Houston County dates back to Sept. 28, 1881, with the formation of the Georgia Southern Railroad Co., Elberta Depot is a significant local landmark and has a proud history of serving area residents. Back in its day in its original location, the depot was used as a whistle stop for hauling produce, mostly peaches, for which Houston County was so well known.
It was used as a warehouse for many years after the train didnt stop, and was later moved by Ted Pulsifer to what used to be the Houston County Fairgrounds on the north end of the city. He restored the building to be used as an activity center until the closing of the fairgrounds property in the early 2000s.
From there, the building was moved -- chronicled by the Discovery Channel on its program Moving Mega Structures -- to its current location. Interestingly enough, the E.L. Greenway Welcome Center -- described as the New Robins Depot in The Telegraph -- opened its doors for business Feb. 1, 1944. The depot was described as housing ticket and freight offices for the Southern Railway and was built by the Elliott Building Co. from Hickory, N.C., at a cost of $20,000. Just as noteworthy is that the new depot replaced an old wooden building, which was donated to the Warner Robins Presbyterian Church. The structure was used as the sanctuary of the church. Local archives document the one-man depot move tying up Watson Boulevard traffic for two weeks. The photo accompanying the description of the move in the book A Land So Dedicated by local historian Bobbie Nelson is of the building, a truck, the man and a mule.
All these years later, both buildings are still vital to the history of Warner Robins, a community of just 50 or so people that grew into the home of the largest industrial complex in Georgia.
The E.L. Greenway Welcome Center now serves as the home the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau, hosting countless visitors, meetings, conferences and sports events annually, and the Keep Warner Robins Beautiful office, which is responsible for beautification projects throughout the city.
The Elberta Depot will be rehabilitated so that all the properties across from the law enforcement center -- the welcome center; the 1971 Southern X556 caboose; Mildreds Country Store, filled with local memorabilia; and the Elberta Depot -- will trace the mutual histories of the town of Wellston becoming the city of Warner Robins, the development of Robins Air Force Base and the vital role the railroad played in both.
Students will be able to visit the depot museums, and travelers to the area can visit the site to learn more about Warner Robins history and its connection to surface transportation. The development of this project has happened thanks to city stewardship as part of a community plan to develop heritage tourism.
Marsha Priest Buzzell is executive director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau. Contact her at 922-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.