Waycross City Hall is located at 417 Pendleton Street, Waycross, GA 31502.
Photo: Summerland-Tilman home, circa 1896, located at Gilmore and Howe Streets, Waycross. Located in the Waycross Historic District. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Photographed by user:Michael Rivera, own work, 2015, [cc-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed June, 2023.
Beginning in 1857 what would become Waycross [†] appeared on some maps as Yankee Town named for William Stacey Bailey, a Maine transplant who had set up a tent camp between today's Knight Avenue and Dewey Street in Waycross. He and families of his workers lived there as they cut down and shipped logs on the Satilla River to Burnt Fort in Camden County.
After the war ended in 1865, some businesses developed near the railroad junction. Many of the residents and leaders of Ware County felt there was a greater chance for growth at the railroad junction than in Waresboro or Tebeauville. This settlement where the two rail lines crossed was called Junction for a few years before the name Waycross was officially chosen about 1874. Methodist church records reflect that in 1873 their church was referred to as being in Junction and in 1874 it was referred to as being in Waycross.
Four men are credited with founding Waycross. They owned most of the land on which the town is located today and played leading roles in its development. Dr. Daniel Lott was the first dentist in the county and was active in Ware County governmental affairs from 1845. Before moving to Junction from Waresboro, he acquired part of Land Lot 166 that included much of the land on the north side of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway. It included the area that would be donated to the town for a cemetery, along with land on which the courthouse and many other buildings and houses were constructed in the early 1870s.
The second man was William Stacey Bailey, a Maine native who worked for lumber mills in the Northeast. Around 1855 he found a promising supply of timber in Ware County and by 1857 had established his tent camp. The third man, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Williams, was a family physician with large holdings in timberland and turpentine in North Carolina. In 1860 he moved his family to an area in Ware County about four miles northeast of Tebeauville and purchased most of the land on the south of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway. The fourth man, Captain Cuyler Walter Milliard, a distinguished Civil War officer, moved from Waresboro to Waycross about 1874, and worked hard in developing the new township.
Although the village of Waycross was created in 1872, it was not incorporated until March 3,1874. At the time of its incorporation in 1874, the population of the town was 300. A referendum was held in May 1872 to consider moving the county seat from Waresboro to the new settlement. The vote carried and the name Waycross was chosen for the new village, reflecting the crossing where the rail lines and other trails met. A small, new wooden courthouse was soon built near the rail junction in the general location of today's courthouse. The residents of Waresboro were unhappy about this change, and on October 12, 1874, the new Waycross courthouse mysteriously burned during the night. The next morning petitions were circulated encouraging the populace to take the county seat back to Waresboro where there was a perfectly good log courthouse. The leaders of the new settlement stopped this movement by having the old log courthouse dismantled and moved to Waycross.
The city experienced rapid growth and was referred to as "The Magic City of Southern Georgia" because of its remarkable growth in the period between 1872 and 1920. This growth came about primarily due to the city's relationship with the Plant Investment Company and its system of railroads and repair shops for the railroad cars that ran from Maine to Miami. Connecticut entrepreneur Henry B. Plant built a network of railroads across southern Georgia and northern Florida. He purchased the Atlantic & Gulf rail line in 1879 and renamed it the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway. As he developed his network of rails in the 1880s, Waycross was selected as the site of a large rail car repair center. It continues to operate in that capacity on an expanded basis. Rice Yards in Waycross was the largest computer-operated distribution center for freight cars east of the Mississippi River in the 1970s. Today there are a few other similar computer-operated freight car distribution centers in the larger cities of the Northeast.
Along with the growth of the new rail center, new hotels, churches, elementary and high schools, two opera houses, brick stores, and office buildings were constructed in addition to the development of many elegant neighborhoods. In the early 1900s, a streetcar line ran from the large new railroad depot to several parts of the city, including the courthouse, depot, and Lott Cemetery.
† Lynn Speno, Survey and Register Specialist, Historic Preservation Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, nomination document, 2008, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.