How Waycross Became Waycross

Conflicting tales exist concerning the naming of Waycross, Georgia, but almost all center on the railroad. One recounts a meeting between Dr. Daniel Lott, one of our founders, Major Henry Haines, superintendent of the Savannah Railroad, and Mr. B.F. Allen, editor of “The Georgian,” a local newspaper. These gentlemen met in a motel in Blackshear (yes Blackshear existed before Waycross) to come up with a name for the junction of the existing Savannah Railroad and a new rail line from Brunswick to Albany. These lines would cross nine miles west of Blackshear. Among the names considered were Westcross, Eastcross, Southcross, Crossways, Newcross and Waycross. Newcross almost won the day but the trio decided at some point in time the City would grow old and the name would no longer be suitable. Waycross was decided as the name.

An expansion of the above involves Mr. Allen’s son. As the trio discussed the names, Mr. Allen’s son was busy in the back room setting type for “The Georgian” and suggested, “Why not name it Waycross, the crossing of the ways into another state”.

Another tale still involves Major Haines but a different family. Mr. Haines invited Miss Isabella Remshart (another founding family) and Mrs. Wm. Foster Parker, her sister, to ride with him on his car out a little way toward Brunswick where he was to review some work being done by a crew. Arriving at the destination Mr. Haines remarked, “I don’t see the gang,” to which Mrs. Parker responded, “I think I see them ‘way across’ there.” Mr. Haines remarked that would make a good name for our then coming into being town. There are other versions to the naming of Waycross but Alice, Mary, Isabella, Jane, Margaret, Ann, Elizabeth, Parker, Remshart, and Jenkins Streets in downtown Waycross were named in honor of members of the Remshart family.

Others attribute the name to Rev. W.H. Thomas, a beloved member in the early Waycross community, who contends it was named as the “Way of the Cross”.

~Thomas Larry Gattis (This article includes information taken from “By The Way…It Happened in Waycross” by Larry Purdom with Joe Ballentine; “This Magic Wilderness” by Robert Latimer Hurst and “History of Ware County Georgia” by Laura Singleton Walker.)

The Early History of Waycross

The City of Waycross was incorporated in 1874. Earlier maps dated in 1860 show a town at the current location of Waycross called Tebeauville. What happened to this community and where is it now?

In 1857, Philip Coleman Pendleton moved his family to what would become the ninth station on the Savannah to Thomasville railroad that was under construction. The station was to be named Pendleton, but Mr. Pendleton requested the station be named Tebeauville after his father-in-law, Frederic Edmund Tebeau of Savannah. Tebeauville became home to the Pendleton and Remshart families. Now you know how those streets in downtown Waycross got their name. To this day many old timers refer to the section of town where Tebeauville was located as “Old Nine.” Tebeauville did not cease to exist but dissolved into Waycross when it was created.

In 1917 the Lyman Hall Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution decided to erect a monument to Tebeauville. On May 11, 1917, a large crowd gathered to witness the unveiling of the Teabeauville Tablet which read “On this site stood the old town of Tebeauville, erected 1917, by the Lyman Hall chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Waycross, Georgia.” The unveiling featured group singing and speeches and included the reading of “Love Feast in Waycross.” For you children of the ’60s this was not a forerunner to our time, but verses describing how the happiest times occur in Waycross when everyone is in church.

Time passes on and the little park in Old Nine faded from memory. Fifty-one years later, the Waycross Junior Women’s Club took interest in the park. Money was raised and improvements were made to the neglected and forgotten park. On February 16, 1968, the park was rededicated.

Time, and now express highways (since we are into street names – Corridor Z or the South Georgia Parkway), once again removed Tebeauville from memory. But the Tebeauville Tablet still stands although its condition is a little worse for wear. Long ago the top portion of the monument with the inscription was destroyed. The inscription was duplicated by a brass plaque but that was stolen. The plaque has since been replaced. The Tablet is in a small City park between Bertha Street and Johanna Streets, parallel to Glenmore Avenue (Remember, we used to call it the Valdosta Highway).

On Saturday, October 25, 2008, the Leadership Waycross Alumni Class added a little dignity to the Tebeauville Tablet by landscaping the area around the monument. Among those participating were Robin Blackard, Pam Taylor, Regina Morgan and Larry Gattis. Assisting the alumni were Tyler Paul, Paige Taylor and Millie Morgan. Another alumni member, Elaine Howe of the Class of 2007, is a descendant of Frederic Edmund Tebeau. It may take us awhile, but Elaine has corrected our pronunciation of “Tea bo” to “ta Bo.” Leadership Waycross Alumni would like to thank Mark Deal of Okefenokee Technical College and Barry Wright of Wright’s Landscaping for their assistance in this project.

In 2009, Leadership Waycross Alumni petitioned the City Commission to change the legal name of Bertha Street Park to Tebeauville Park in recognition of the historic significance of Tebeauville. This was done after obtaining the approval of all the property owners that adjoin the park. On May 19, 2009, the City Commission of Waycross approved the change.

On June 17, 2009, a dedication ceremony was held. Among those in attendance were Mrs. Elaine Howe, a direct descendant of the Tebeaus; Mrs. S William Clark and Mrs. Marjorie Blythe-Poland representing the Lyman Hall Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Mrs. Ann Childers, a member of the Junior Women’s Club when the park was redone in 1968 and Robin Blackard, Pam Taylor, Regina Morgan of Leadership Waycross Alumni.

Thomas Larry Gattis (This article includes information taken from “By The Way…It Happened in Waycross” by Larry Purdom with Joe Ballentine; “This Magic Wilderness” by Robert Latimer Hurst and “History of Ware County Georgia” by Laura Singleton Walker.)

The City Hall & YMCA

In 1906, Waycross was a town with big ideas. A subscription drive was undertaken to construct a YMCA at a cost of $60,000. To give you some idea of the magnitude of the project, that would equate to a project in excess of $1,300,000 today, all to be funded by volunteer contributions from a City with a population of 14,485 (1910 census).

To design these buildings, the citizens of Waycross turned to a young architect from Jacksonville, Henry John Klutho. Klutho had closed his newly opened firm in New York and moved to Jacksonville in 1901 after a major fire devastated the City. Fame and fortune ultimately came his way with his Prairie School style of architecture. Perhaps his most famous building in Jacksonville is the St James Building.

Klutho’s design featured an exterior using different color bricks to create a Venetian design, wide projected roofs supported on brackets, an internal shaft for circulation, a swimming pool, gymnasium and a suspended running track. The third floor contained 22 dormitory rooms.

Either the construction process or collection on the subscriptions was slow. In 1910, another major fund drive was held to complete the building by raising $25,000. This campaign was successful in raising the pledges, and notes were issued by First National Bank to provide the funds. Construction continued and the YMCA opened on July 2, 1911. The dedication was held October 14, 1911.

Interestingly in 1911, The Atlantic Coastline Railroad funded the building of another YMCA in Waycross. This larger facility on Screven Avenue featured 35 boarding rooms, a bowling alley and billiard room. On April 16, 1912, the doors opened to the Railroad YMCA. (As a teenager, I remember skipping church to go and rock on the massive front porch of this YMCA.)

Perhaps our town was not big enough to support two YMCAs. For whatever reason, collection on those subscription notes fell behind, and on November 11, 1916, the YMCA was listed in the legal ads of the Waycross Journal Herald. The City of Waycross purchased the building for $25,000 for use as a City Hall on December 22, 1916. The minutes approving the transaction noted the building had not been used for several years.

Today City Hall still operates out of the old YMCA building. Substantial renovations were done in 1985, but many of the original architectural elements and evidences of the YMCA are still present. These include:

A tile mosaic of the YMCA logo is located between the front entrance doors to City Hall. It is protected by a layer of carpet. It was revealed to this author several years ago on the weekend the carpet was replaced. I just happened to come in that weekend to make this discovery. In addition to this, door knobs to the French doors on the front of the building contain the YMCA logo.

The interior open shaft from the first floor to the skylight on the roof provided air circulation to the inside dormitory rooms on the third floor. This is an early form of air conditioning.

~Thomas Larry Gattis ~ The author wishes to thank Donna Carter for her extensive research on this project.

City Hall Renovations

The following article was contained in the program dedicating the rehabilitation of City Hall in 1985:

“The turn of the century found Waycross a bustling Southeast Georgia transportation center “feeling its oats.” In 1907, when the cornerstone of a community Young Men’s Christian Association Center was laid at the corner of Pendleton and Isabella streets, Waycross already was, city boosters proudly proclaimed, a “city of churches.” Such was the optimism amid the boom atmosphere that some were comparing Waycross with the state’s burgeoning capital city and even labeling Waycross the “Atlanta of South Georgia.” Indeed, the parallel between the two cities was clear. Although geographically widely separated, both were creatures if the railroads; in fact, Atlanta’s original name was Terminus, the end of the line.

Community leaders thought that a city growing by such leaps and bounds needed a YMCA, to build strong bodies and develop Christian character. They had heard of a talented man in Jacksonville, Florida, whose architectural genius had played a major role on the rebuilding of the city in the wake of the 1901 fire which had destroyed 148 city blocks. In the fire, many of Jacksonville’s finest public and private buildings were gutted by flames.

Henry John Klutho came to Florida from New York when Jacksonville was literally still smoking. He was a disciple of two celebrated Midwestern architects, Lewis Sullivan of Chicago, and Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his revolutionary “prairie style.” Mr. Klutho distinguished himself on the rebuilding of Jacksonville with his design of the YMCA there, the St. James Building near Hemming Park, and the 10-story Bisbee Building recognized by its large windows and terra cotta ornamentation. Klutho was contacted about the pending design of the Waycross YMCA and agreed to do the job. Today it is considered by some of his admirers to be among the finer examples of his architectural excellence.

Although the actual beginning for the construction is not clear, the June 21, 1907, edition of the Waycross Journal reported that “work on the new $60,000 YMCA is progressing very well and walls have been built up to the first-floor joists.” That same news story projected that the building would be ready for use by Thanksgiving of that year. It was not to be true. Funds apparently ran out, for in the Spring of 1910 a community wide effort to raise the money to complete the building was launched. The effort raised $25,000 in cash and pledges with installment notes to be held by the First National Bank.

City Hall, fire stations, and the YMCA Building seemed to be inextricably linked from the beginning. In late January 1911, a “week of open house” for public tours of the new YMCA building was announced. Just two weeks before, the Waycross Board of Alderman had been told by Alderman Parker “…that the city (should) secure new quarters, apart from the fire department entirely.” The need of further equipment in the central fire station was given as a special reason why a change should be made.

The YMCA building finally and officially opened on July 2, 1911, and dedicated “to the service of God” in a down-pour on October 14, 1911.

Although the Waycross YMCA was laid out along functional lines – gymnasium, swimming pool (basement floor), and dormitory rooms on the top floor, Klutho added a touch of class and his own originality by including interior Corinthian columns and an atrium opening through three floors. Both distinctions are preserved in the newly renovated structure.

Records show that the City of Waycross acquired the downtown “Y’ in 1917 from the First National Bank and added a new cornerstone to the northeast corner of the building. The names of Mayor Scott T. Beaton (the Mayor was then elected by the citizens) and those of the six members of the Board of Alderman are preserved in the renovated façade.

Talk to any long-time citizen of Waycross and you’ll discover that the City Hall Building was and has been by all odds the busiest place in town. It has been used for church services, by health officials for vaccination programs, meeting places for local National Guard units, and as a command post for military police during World War II. Many will recall that the building served as the city library until the present Waycross Regional Library was built. Countless “townhall” meetings were held in the old City Hall Building, there were “war bond” rallies, patriotic assemblies, protest meetings, and even some political campaigns spawned on this historic site.

Only minor alterations had been made to the 72-year-old structure when the city fathers were put on urgent notice early in this decade that failure to provide adequate facilities for the handicapped might lead to the loss of more than $600,000 in annual federal general revenue sharing funds. Already, city officials had been apprehensive about the deteriorating building, the conditions under which the people of Waycross were being served and which city employees worked. One department moved from an upper floor to leased quarters.

Only minor alterations had been made to the 72-year-old structure when the city fathers were put on urgent notice early in this decade that failure to provide adequate facilities for the handicapped might lead to the loss of more than $600,000 in annual federal general revenue sharing funds. Already, city officials had been apprehensive about the deteriorating building, the conditions under which the people of Waycross were being served and which city employees worked. One department moved from an upper floor to leased quarters.

After the electorate rejected a proposal to construct a new City Hall on the site of the Phoenix Building, the city commission proposed renovating the historic landmark structure in 1983 and the issue was carried by a margin of 4 to 1. The preservation of this centerpiece of Waycross history was clearly on the minds of the voters. The renovation preserves the most admired architectural features, while enhancing the building with tasteful design, comfortable surroundings, and an atmosphere that captures the aura of the past and the promise of the future.

In 1982, at the request of the Waycross City Commission, Surber, Barber & Mooney, architects, undertook an analysis of the existing City Hall Building to determine whether it was suitable for rehabilitation and reuse. Our investigation and design studies indicated that indeed it could be made suitable to adequately serve the city’s needs well into the 21st century.

Upon passage of the bond referendum, we prepared construction documents and have worked closely with Charles E. Lewis Construction Company through the process of implementation. The general contractor’s determination and integrity have been an important factor in the successful completion of the project.
The approach to rehabilitation was, generally, to restore the building’s exterior, to renovate the main public spaces on the first floor, to remove all materials down to the stud in other areas, and completely rebuild new spaces within the existing confines.

Work on the exterior including cleaning, repainting, repairing the brick, repairing all woodwork, adding a small plaza with a flagpole on the Pendleton Street side, and planting cherry trees and Chinese elm trees. Additionally, the old metal shed together with a great deal of exposed piping, conduit, and general debris was removed. The “Police Precinct” sign painted on the rear façade was attacked with every solvent and paint removal technique (short of sandblasting) known to the architect, contractor, and painting contractor. As can be seen, it remains as evidence of former building tenants and as a testament to the quality of paint in the “good old days.”

The interior moldings and trim in the first-floor lobby spaces as well as several adjacent areas were preserved and restored. On either side of the main entrance are the cashiers, tax administration and personnel department. By locating these functions thusly, most citizen business can be conducted without searching the building in frustration. This arrangement also reduces unneeded traffic in other work areas.

The new commission chamber is designed with acoustical excellence as a major goal. The splayed walls and reflective ceiling reflect sound into the room while the acoustically absorptive walls eliminate excessive reverberation. A sophisticated sound reinforcement system has been installed along with a concealed projection screen for audio-visual displays.

In the second-floor lobby, the skylight well that had been closed was reopened and rebuilt. The four plaster columns are the only remaining existing details, all else is new. Windows opening into adjacent spaces allow light from the skylight to be shared. The mayor’s and city manager’s offices are positioned so they will be readily accessible to guests arriving on the second floor.

A major change to the building occurred on the second floor in what was originally the upper area of the first-floor gymnasium. Here, a balcony designed for use as a running track was removed, as was the ceiling above it. A new floor was constructed covering the entire gymnasium area and a new ceiling was installed at the top cords of the existing, but formerly hidden, massive wooden trusses. The new floor houses the computer center, utilities billing and the finance operations. Upon entering the third-floor lobby, a visitor is aware of the skylight shaft and the large reception desk. The employee’s lounge is at one end of the U-shaped third floor and is a particularly pleasant space.

The approach to the interior detailing of the building was to match moldings, doors, and trim in areas where they originally occurred and to use design license where it suited the purpose of function or aesthetics.

Generally, we have attempted to design a building that meets the operational needs of city governments, while providing interesting and comfortable working environs for the employees, while creating a positive, progressive impression of the City of Waycross.

~ James A. Pinson