Ware County, Georgia has an interesting and intriguing history. Named for a state senator who never visited the area, Ware County grew out of the wilderness of southeastern Georgia. Through the toils and labor of colony-like settlements of people, who eeked out a living in a backwoods wasteland, Ware County became renowned for its industry, commerce and natural habitat.
Today, Ware County continues to be one of the jewels of Georgia's southeastern territory. Located within less than two hours from several major commercial municipalities in northern Florida and southern Georgia, Waycross is the commercial center for several surrounding cities and townships in or near Ware County. Though economically stable with a diverse work force, the area maintains its small-town charm and tranquility while supporting a great environment for the career-minded through its educational institutions and associations. Noteworthy is that the area's a great place to retire.
Cited below is a portion of the distinquished history of Ware County, including its birth, cities and industry. For the most detailed information on Waycross and Ware County history, please visit the local Okefenokee Heritage Center.
Birth of Ware County
In 1818, Appling County was the name of the region from which Ware County would soon receive its plot of defining land. On Dec 15, 1824, Ware County was created from a subdivided Appling County. Through enactment, the Georgia General Assembly founded and named Ware County in honor of Senator Nicholas Ware, who had died that same year. Senator Ware, born in Virginia in 1769, moved to Richmond County, GA when he was a child. He became the second mayor of Augusta, serving from 1819 to 1821. He was a distinguished leader in early statehood, but he apparently had never visited the area that received his name.
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Railroads Give Birth to Waycross
There was no Waycross when the railroads first came to the region. Earlier communities like Waresboro (originally spelled “Waresborough”), Yankee Town (later named “Tebeauville”), and Kettle Creek for example, existed as “outposts” of civilization with often as few as five families populating an area. The only rail station on the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad was at Tebeauville, but by 1871, another small community had begun a mile or so southeast of this station. Residents in this new small community had to go to Tebeauville to take the train or pick up freight. Eventually this new community asked Colonel H.S. Haines, general superintendent of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad, to make a crossing of the Atlantic & Gulf and the Brunswick & Albany railroads.
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The Founders of Waycross
In the history of Ware County, four men stood out as possessing the vision and fortitude that resulted in the founding of the City of Waycross. Those men were Dr. Daniel Lott, Mr. William Bailey, Captain Cuyler Hilliard and Dr. Benjamin Williams. The industrialist spirit and ingenuity of these men transformed rough wilderness into a bustling town that soon after its incorporation would outgrow Waresborough, the county seat of Ware County since 1824, to become the new county seat in 1872.
These four men were largely responsible for organizing the new town, laying out the streets, printing Waycross’ first newspaper, attracting new settlers and business investors, providing medical treatment to the community, securing railroad lines and assisting in the building of the first academy, the first church and the first courthouse in Waycross.
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How Waycross Got Its Name - One Account
Legend has it that Henry B. Plant was responsible for naming Waycross, that he conceived the idea of building the town in the shape of a Maltese cross, and then used it as part of the coat-of-arms of the Plant System of Railroads. The Maltese cross road layout in downtown Waycross created a series of triangles in the city along what is now Plant Avenue. These triangles have become part of the park system of Waycross around which many downtown businesses have made their home.There are actually several stories as to how the name, “Waycross” came to be, but by whatever means, the crossing of those rail lines brought forth the town Waycross, thus launching its history. With the crossing of the rails and a station stop, came the people. The population shifted and gravitated towards the railroad. Eventually, Tebeauville was incorporated into the Waycross community. Still, there were few residents, but the town grew, as did the railroads.
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More About The Railroad Systems
Around 1880, two prominent pioneers, Dr. Lott and Dr. Folks ordained a charter for a railroad from Waycross, across the St. Mary’s River, and on to Jacksonville, FL. The Waycross Short Line to Florida (also known as the Waycross & Florida Railroad), as part of the Plant System, was advertised throughout the country and became the mainstay of Waycross for many years to come. In 1880, Waycross still only had a few hundred residents, but by 1890, its population had grown to over three-thousand.
There were other railroad ventures. In Waltertown, seven miles from Waycross, the Waycross Lumber Company ran rail lines from the steam sawmill into town. It was decided that a rail line from Waycross running north to Douglas and south to St. Mary’s would be a promising venture for the company. In 1889, the charter was amended and a board of directors elected. The rail line from Waltertown was extended to haul lumber and reach turpentine stills. The Waycross Air Line Railroad (WAL) extended from Elsie (now Haywood), Bolen, Beach, Sessoms, Granville and Nicholls, operating as a freight and passenger service. By 1900, the WAL serviced Fitzgerald and Douglas as well. It was later incorporated into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
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More About Henry Plant
In 1892, Henry Plant owned 1,374 miles of railway lines and 1,277 miles of steamer lines. Waycross was an important station between Charleston, SC and Montgomery, AL. Henry Bradley Plant first came to the South and realized its great potential in 1854 when he was superintendent of the Adams Express Company. At the beginning of the Civil War, the company reorganized as the Southern Express Company with Henry Plant as its president. Being a Connecticut “Yankee”, Plant encountered problems working with the Confederate government, lost his wife to illness in 1863, and decided to leave the country until the end of the conflict.
At the end of the Civil War, Plant returned to Georgia as the head of the Southern Express Company and acquired the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad, which he reorganized as the Savannah, Florida and Western (SF&W) in 1879. This was the original and largest rail line of the new Plant System, boasting three-hundred, fifty miles of track. By 1893, the SF&W had only fifty-eight miles of track to lay in order to connect Waycross to Port Tampa and the west coast of Florida.
The State of Georgia declared October 28, 1895 as “Plant System Day”. For as much as H.B. Plant did to promote the western and central section of Florida, surely he also did for southeast Georgia.
By 1899, many other companies were brought into the Plant System, bringing the mileage to more than 2,200 miles of rail, reaching from Charleston, SC to Tampa, FL to Montgomery, AL. From the SF&W to the Waycross Short Line, the power of the Plant System grew throughout the southeast, his only real rival being Henry Flagler and the Florida East Coast Railroad..
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