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.
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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.
The Regional Visitor Information Center located in Downtown Waycross, Georgia can help you find your adventure! Stop by and see us, pick up a map, brochures, flyers, books, information and so much more. Whether you are staying overnight or just traveling through, Waycross will be a place to remember.
The Okefenokee Heritage Center is a regional art and history museum located amongst twenty acres of beautiful pine woodlands. Over the past thirty years it has served the surrounding Okefenokee area by promoting an appreciation of the arts and an increased understanding of this region’s history. with its exhibits, programs and activities.
Southern Forest World is a museum dedicated to the history of forestry. There are many interesting artifacts. Southern Forest World has “Stuckie” the petrified dog (He’s also been on display at Ripley’s Believe It of Not).
If you are interested in Forestry this is the place for you! If you’d like to see a petrified dog then this is a MUST!
Laura S. Walker State Park is located just a few miles from the Okefenokee Swamp Park. Fishing and watersports are popular during the summer in the park’s 120-acre lake, while camping is popular year-round. Laura Walker also provides a beautiful layout of picnic areas and group shelters that are great for family outings.
Obediah’s Okefenok is the 1800s pioneer homestead of Obediah Barber. Since 1989, this homestead has been restored and turned into a park, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can venture down the 1100-ft. boardwalk, walk the nature trails, or just stroll through the many buildings and museums.
As you explore our downtown, note the many examples of period architecture that give this area its character. Even though some buildings are getting a face lift, others remain towering testaments to Waycross’ close proximity to Florida and its Spanish Influence. This Spanish Mission style architecture is reflected in stucco finishes, stylized gables, and clay tile roofs.
The crown jewel of the Ware County Recreation Department, the 123-acre facility features three complexes within walking distance of each other, and surrounded by ample parking. Building on the Trembling Earth Sports Complex
began in the early 2000s and has been completed in stages as funds became available. Your team is sure to appreciate the 12 tournament quality fields for play: the youth baseball complex with its six fields; the adult softball
complex, with four fields; one full-sized football field; and one multi-purpose soccer field.
A dream in the hearts of many post-World War II Ware County citizens, Memorial Stadium became a reality in 1948, dedicated to the many Ware County women and men who gave their lives in defense of their county in two world wars. Until 2002, Memorial Stadium was the hub of Waycross’ community life, drawing its citizens to regular minor-league baseball games, where major-leaguers such as Hank Aaron and Stan Musial would disembark from their train trips to make cameo appearances on the field.