Looking for the railroad history of Warner Robins

February 20, 2013 

The Warner Robins Heritage Society, a volunteer committee of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau, is asking the public for help in compiling the history of the local railroad. They are particularly interested as it relates to the opening of Wellston Field and the subsequent growth of Robins Air Force Base and the city of Warner Robins.

In that process, it has been three years since the Georgia Department of Transportation awarded a Transportation Enhancement Grant to the city of Warner Robins for the purpose of renovating Elberta Depot into a heritage center on the railroad tracks adjacent to the E.L. Greenway Welcome Center in front of Robins on Armed Forces Boulevard. That road was once known as Front Street but actually was named First Street and is home to the new law enforcement center replacing the old structure on Young Street. The soon-to-be-renovated 1918 Elberta Depot will tell the story of Wellston, Warner Robins, the base and the railroad becoming one. What’s old truly is new again.

Briefly, Elberta Depot was originally located at the corner of Elberta Road and Ga. 247 and was used at that time as a whistle stop for transporting produce, mostly peaches for which Houston County was so well-known. Considering that construction of the railroad through Houston County dates back to Sept. 28, 1881, with the formation of the Georgia Southern Railroad Company, Elberta Depot is a significant local landmark and has a proud history of its own in serving the residents of the area. It was used as a warehouse for many years after the train didn’t stop anymore. Later, it was moved to the Houston County Fairgrounds thanks to the good stewardship of Ted Pulsifer. The building was used as an activity center until it closed in 2000. From there the building journeyed -- chronicled by the Discovery Channel on their program “Moving Mega Structures” -- to its current location next to the city’s only designated site on the National Historic Registry, the E.L. Greenway Welcome Center. If it is not moved for another 50 years, it, too, will be eligible for the heritage preservation distinction.

It is noteworthy to mention that the original train depot to Wellston actually stood to the east of the tracks, not on the west as it stands today. In fact, the original depot is now the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church on Watson Boulevard, close to Commercial Circle. An archived black and white photograph from 1942 shows the building being pulled by a pick-up truck and a mule. The caption notes that the move tied up traffic for two weeks to get it moved.

Warner Robins is full of wonderful stories, memories and even legends, which is something the Warner Robins Heritage Society is finding out. For the past several months, they and a group of volunteers have been collecting interviews of “pioneers” of the city when it dated back to the hamlet of Wellston with a population of 54 or so. Much has been learned and captured on videotape: the tornado of 1953, local politics, schools, fishing holes, dairy farms, floods, airmen, young professionals and the base that brought them all together. The times were good. The times were bad. But memories are all coming together as the community that we know today as Warner Robins. The railroad was a significant part of that experience. Anyone with memorabilia and specific experience or knowledge that they would like to share of working with the railroad during the formative years of the city, is asked to call 922-5100.

Marsha Priest Buzzell is executive director of the Warner Robins Convention and Visitors Bureau. Contact her at 922-5100 or cvb@wrga.gov.

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