Local area History
Waycross Local History
Waycross began as a crossroads for southeastern travel. It was first a hub for stagecoach traffic, and then became a center for the railroad when it laid its tracks in the mid 1800′s. As the Plant System Railroad started to grow, so did the town surrounding it. Streets were placed in the pattern of the Maltese Cross which was part of the Plant System Railroad’s logo, and a new city was born.
When you compare the current Phoenix building (above) with the 1920’s post card you’ll see the renovation has kept the character of Waycross.
It is said that someone traveling with the Railroad gave Waycross its name, because he stated that this was “where the ways crossed”, others will claim that Waycross was so named because it was “the way of the cross”, due to numerous churches being built here in those days. However, the railroad still plays an important role in the survival of this city. It is the number one employer for the county. It is also the largest CSX computerized rail yard on the East Coast, which means that Waycross is still the center of all rail traffic coming through the southeast area.
The Historic Passenger Rail Depot was built in the early 1900′s to replace the original depot that was destroyed by fire after a train derailment. This building was restored in 1998 to house the Waycross Tourism Bureau and Visitor Center, the Waycross-Ware County Chamber of Commerce, and other local offices, which are still there today. Other parts of the Historic Downtown area are also being refurbished.
The Railway Express Agency (REA) building was restored in 2001 as a 400-seat banquet and reception hall, and one of the oldest hotels in Waycross, The Phoenix Hotel, has currently undergone a $7.4 million dollar renovation to become corporate offices for a local company and new store fronts.
Besides the Railroad, Waycross has a few other claims to fame. It is the north entrance to Okefenokee Swamp, a 450,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge that has a one-of-a-kind ecosystem, found nowhere else in the world. Waycross was also home to “The Green Frog” restaurant, which was built here in the 1930′s by the Darden brothers, who went on to open a famous chain of restaurants called “Red Lobster.” Other historical facts about Waycross include being the child-hood home of Pernell Roberts, Gram Parsons, and Ozzie Davis, the birthplace of Bert Reynolds, and home to two of the largest frozen food industries in the country.
Waycross/Ware County is now home to over 35,000 residents and growing. It is a place of business and industrial development and southern hospitality. Visitors can enjoy learning more about the history of area by stopping at the Visitor Center to pick up a Historic Walking Tour Booklet and taking a stroll through Downtown, or they can visit our two museums to learn more about the pioneer, Native American, and environmental history of the area.