More than two years ago, before the home of Robins Air Force Base celebrated the 70th anniversary of its name change from Wellston to Warner Robins, a call went out to local “pioneers” asking if they would participate in a special local history project, one that had never been done before that anyone recalled.
The idea was to meet as often as possible every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon at Central Baptist Church for an informal conversation about memories of growing up in Wellston and the early days of Warner Robins. While a video camera rolled, community and family memories of long ago were captured as the pioneers casually recalled life with Mama and Daddy on the farm, the schoolhouse on “the hill,” playing ball on an old sand lot, church life and so much more.
More than 80 dedicated citizens shared their time and life stories -- two driving in from as far as North Carolina and another having just celebrated her 100th birthday. The result is more than 100 hours of historical information that will soon be given to the Houston County Library System for all to access through the Georgia Home Place digital library program with the University of Georgia.
The recurring theme in the interviews is that Warner Robins is some kind of special place because of its people -- from the original 52 to the current 77,000.
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Amazingly, several of the original families remain in town today and report that their family dates back in Georgia to the Revolutionary War. Another’s family name is associated with the arrest of the president of the Confederacy. Farmers, judges, doctors, lawyers, entertainers, entrepreneurs, state legislators, school teachers, policemen, early retailers, authors, builders, firemen, mayors, librarians and a governor shared their stories, photographs, blueprints and even original songs.
The interviews reveal an enthralling first hand account of what one might not necessarily expect -- the crowds that gathered on the main street of town (now Watson Boulevard, but once Cherry Street) the day Roosevelt died, for example. Two gentleman shared not only their unique story of being members of an African-American semi-professional baseball team called the Warner Robins Jets, but also the names of every player in the lineup.
There are many personal accounts of the infamous tornado of 1953, the election of a mayor from jail that everyone seemed to remember, and the day pingpong balls were dropped from an aircraft during the opening of the first shopping center in town. There were some very funny yet poignant stories shared about early law enforcement, couples dating and the survival instincts to raise a family and run a business in a modest community sometimes called Dogpatch.
The people have told their story of how this community -- one of only two in the nation grown to support the war effort of World War II (the other is Oak Ridge, Tennessee) -- is today not only a military town, but a medical, technological, educational, retirement and, yes, a travel and tourism destination.
Marsha Priest Buzzell is the director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau and may be contacted at 478-922-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.