Warner Robins, Georgia, is the largest city in Houston County, named for John Houstoun, second governor of Georgia. The county was created on May 15, 1821 out of land ceded to the State by the Muscogee (Creek) in the Treaty of Indian Springs, January 8, 1821. The city is located in the northern part of the county in the geographic center of Georgia about half way between Macon and Perry. In the 2000 census it had a population of 48,804 and covered 22.9 square miles. The first white settlers, Henry S. Feagin Sr. and his wife Missouri, arrived in 1823 and built a large plantation.
For nearly 50 years, the farm community was known as York after the federal post office located in a local country store. After the Civil War, the Southern Railway Company planned to connect the rail line between Macon and Perry. The Company surveyor, named Wells, became friends with Henry S. Feagin, Jr., who donated 100 acres on which to build a train station. When the job was completed, Feagin named the station and the community Wellston, after Wells.
For the next 60 years, the area remained a whistle stop surrounded by dairy farms, corn fields, peach orchards and pecan groves. In the early 1930s, Middle Georgia, like the rest of Georgia, bent under the grinding poverty of the Great Depression. Local leaders embraced the growing defense industry of the time to bring in jobs. Led by Macon Mayor Charles Bowden and Macon-Bibb County Chamber of Commerce Chair, Lee Trimble, supported by powerful U.S. Congressman Carl Vinson of Milledgeville, Georgia, they invited the Army to locate an aviation logistics depot and flying field in Middle Georgia. On June 16, 1941, after months of competition with other sites, the War Department announced that it would build the depot on land east of the railroad about 16 miles south of Macon along what is today Georgia Highway 247.
The first 3,108.5 acres was purchased by Macon and Bibb County from 47 local farm families for $97,011.67, and "donated" to the Army Air Forces in August 1941. Formal ground breaking took place on September 1. Three more plots totaling 2,770 acres and worth over $96,000 were "gifted" to the AAF in early 1942.
Wellston town fathers, led by postmaster Charles B. "Boss" Watson and his brothers helped win the contract, at least in part, by donating land for the town's first school and other civic buildings. Area leaders also obtained a promise from Wellston Housing Company to construct 2,000 affordable homes in 1942 and more later. Construction of Robins Manor began on July 30, 1942 and over the next three years thousands of new homes sprung up around the heart of the town's business district known as Commercial Circle.
The first depot commander, Col. Charles E. Thomas (later Maj. Gen.) sought to rename the depot for his late mentor and one of the Air Corps' first logisticians, General Augustine Warner Robins. Since depots were named after the nearest town or city, Thomas lobbied to change the town's name. The citizen agreed and on September 1, 1942, Wellston became Warner Robins.
On February 22, 1943, Georgia State Senator John W. Bloodworth of Perry introduced a bill to incorporate Warner Robins. The bill passed on March 5 and on March 14, Boss Watson was appointed Mayor along with four council members to serve until the first municipal election were held in November 1944. The first school, built in 1944, was for named Charles E. Thomas III, Gen. Thomas' son who died in World War II.
During World War II, Robins Field employed over 24,000 personnel and the town thrived. In the draw down that followed the War, the workforce dipped to 3,879 in March 1946. The Berlin Blockade and Airlift (1948-1949) and the Korean War (1950-1953) led to a rebirth of what, following the standup of the U.S. Air Force on September 18, 1947, had been redesignated the Warner Robins Air Materiel Area (WRAMA), Robins Air Force Base (AFB). As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s and 1960s, the workforce grew to over 15,000 and the city topped 20,000.
While the City's history has generally been one of growth and prosperity, on April 30, 1953, at 5:10 p.m., a powerful tornado struck Warner Robins. It touched down on South Pleasant Hill Road and South Davis Drive destroying 126 houses, then cut a path across the Robins AFB industrial area, before crossing the Ocmulgee River into Dry Branch, Twiggs County. Eighteen people were killed and 250 were injured in Warner Robins. Another person died and 50 more were injured in Twiggs County.
In 1951, the town stopped at Pleasant Hill Road, a few hundred yards from Commercial Circle. During the 1950s and 1960s dozens of homes were built down Green Street and Warner Robins High School opened on Davis Drive. By the 1970s, when Watson Blvd had been extended to North Houston Road, a hospital, and two strip malls were build. Since that time, two major roads have been extended to I-75 with work on a third nearly complete. Business and housing developments have filled city and county land all along these thoroughfares.
Being a military town known for its support of the U.S. Air Force and its efforts to preserve Robins AFB, the largest industrial complex in Georgia, it is not surprising that much of the city's rapid growth has been comprised of former military personnel who settle and work in the area. Dozens of aerospace and technology companies like Boeing, Northrop, TRW, SAIC, etc. have located major facilities in and around Warner Robins. All of this has brought service industries such as national restaurants as well as retail and department stores to Warner Robins.
Written by William Head, United States Air Force
Most of the materials used, even the data from the published works below, come from the Robins AFB Archives located in the offices of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center History Office.
Dixon, Claire M.. Warner Robins: The Second 25 Years (Alpharetta, Georgia: W.H. Wolfe Associates, 1993).
Head, William and Isabel Wright. "Keep 'Em Flying (Macon, Georgia: Williams Rowland Publishers, 1991).
Head, William. Through The Camera's Eye: A Photographic Survey of the Origins of Robins Field, 1941-1945 (Robins AFB, Georgia: WR-ALC/HO, 1988).
Nelson, Bobby Hickson. A Land So Dedicated: The History of Houston County, Georgia (Perry, Georgia: Southern Trellis Publishers, 1998).
Robins AFB Heritage Committee. A Pictorial History of Robins AFB, Georgia (Macon, Georgia: University Press of the South, 1982).