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WHERE THE WAYS CROSS
Contributed by Robert Latimer Hurst.


By Robert Latimer Hurst

STATUES OF GEORGIA
Passed by the
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF 1874
No. CXXIV -- (O. No. 401.)

An Act to incorporate the town of Way Cross (sic), in the county of Ware, and to provide for the election of Intendant and Commissioners therefor, and to define their duties and powers, and for other purposes.

No. 273. Section 1. Be it enacted, etc., That, from and after passage of this Act, the town of Way Cross, in the county of Ware, be, and the same is hereby, incorporated, under the name and style of the Intendant and Commissioners of the town of Way Cross, and that the corporate limits of said town shall extend for the distance of one and a half miles north, east, south and west from the court house forming a square; and that William B. Foths (Folks), William H. Miller, Cuyler W. Hilliard, Mitchell J. Mack (Mock) and William F. Parker, be, and they are hereby, appointed Commissioners of said town, with the power to elect one of their number Intendant, who shall hold their office until the first Saturday in January, 1875, and until their successors are elected and qualified.

No. 274. Section 2. And be it further enacted, That on the first Saturday in January in each and every year, thereafter, an election shall be held at the court house, in said town, by any two freeholders thereof, for an Intendant and four Commissioners for said town, at which election all citizens of said town, entitled to vote, and the person receiving the highest number of votes ... shall, before entering upon the duties of their offices, take and subscribe the following oath, before some judicial officer: "I, A.B., do solemnly swear that I will faithfully discharge the duties of Intendant, or Commissioner, (as the case may be) of the town of Way Cross, to the best of my skill and power: so help me God...."

Approved March 3, 1874

And so it began. "But from all those primitive things, we have emerged into a larger sphere of usefulness, and light of the Twentieth Century bursts full upon us, a city clean in morals, dry as to intoxicating liquors for the past 24 years, and fully abreast of the times." Historian Mrs. J. L. Walker wrote this passage in another time, but it signaled the alpha for that town that, some said, was the "Way of the Cross" or "Way Cross."

This was Way Cross "with a modern YMCA building, modern churches, with Plant Avenue and its brick structures taking the place of a little wagon road that led from Tebeauville across Tebeau Branch to the Courthouse" the last day of the year 1906. (When I first penned this story, it was the last day of the year 1973.)

Valentine Legare Stanton, brother of Frank L. Stanton, late poet laureate of Georgia, wrote this description of Waycross in the first decade of the 1900s. Originally, this "History of Way Cross" was entombed in the cornerstone of the old YMCA building;l but, in 1917, it was removed, and a supplement was added. The original and the addition appeared in the June 7, 1917, edition of the Waycross Journal-Herald under V.L. Stanton's by-line. (Note how the spelling of the town has changed.)

An earlier story about Waycross had been released in the "Industrial Edition" of the Waycross Evening Herald, June 1907, with Isabella Remshart Redding as the author. Mrs. Redding pointed out that, in the year 1870, this town-to-be was only a railway crossing, with paths leading into wilderness; a warehouse; sawmill; a few cottages and not over 50 inhabitants. Stanton metaphorically speaks of Waycross, beginning in the spring of 1871 when this area was a virgin forest: "The trees were tall and were the finest specimens of yellow pine that could be found in the state. These forests, as it were, clapped their hands in glee and sang their undisturbed songs of peace, as the south winds attuned their pine needles with the dying of each day."

This whispering silence was underscored by "the whistle of a locomotive once or twice a day, as it passed on its way to Albany or Brunswick" and "the whistle of the bobwhite echoed through the trees as he called to his mate, and no gun disturbed his confidence or disputed his domain."

But there came "a rude awakening to this picture of primeval quietude, and the stately yellow pine began to feel the keen cutting of the pioneer's axe...." Then the first street was laid off in the "Magic City."

In November, 1871, Dr. Daniel Lott built the first home in Waycross, although some assert that Dr. B. F. Williams began his house earlier. Nevertheless, called "Hilltop," Dr. Lott's residence was located on the crest of a hill on Plant Avenue at a spot rumored to be on a trail gauged by the rising and setting of the sun. This location also faced the railroad tracks, which had been the major reason for Dr. Lott and his family making the move from Waresboro, where he had been a dentist and real estate agent. "He had considered the possibility of erecting the house on what was later to be called `Spook's Hill,' where Satilla Regional Hospital now stands. He even dug a well there," informs the former Susan Lott (Mrs. William Clark). A marker, placed by the Waycross Woman's Club in 1940, memorializes the Plant Avenue location. 

Soon followed was the arrival of Dr. B. F. Williams, who moved here from Sunny Side (an outlying district of Waycross) in the spring of 1872, and then came the Reverend Mr. W. H. Thomas. "Uncle Thomas" and Dr. Lott, reports Stanton, planted many of the oaks that once beautified the city and laid out many of the streets between 1872 and 1875. 

In 1873 Dr. William B. Folks and in 1874 Judge George B. Williams and Cuyler W. Hilliard settled here. It was reported by one source that Hilliard came here in 1872 to build a house on the corner of Albany and Grove avenues, adjoining the Ware County Courthouse property; however, at this time, Capt. Hilliard was moving his family from his large farm near the Kettle Creek settlement outside the new town. He had been living in England with a friend, who had inherited about $70,000 in gold, which the two brought here from abroad, but that is another story. 

(It would be Dr. Lott, Dr. Williams, Capt. Hilliard and Mr. William Bailey who receive credit as the founders of Waycross. Each of these gentlemen has a fascinating story of his own. In time, I will submit something on each one.)

"The only station here on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad was located at Tebeauville, and the people who lived at Waycross had to go there to the take the train and get their freight. Doctors Lott and Folks asked Colonel H. S. Haines, general superintendent of the A&G, to make a crossing of the Brunswick and Albany and A&G roads a flag station for the accommodations of those who live here," writes Stanton. "This Col. Haines granted, and so Dr. Lott further requested that he give the station a name."

Mrs. H. B. Bell writes that the story of Waycross is narrated differently by one who has listened to the stories told or by one who has had the accounts written down in family records than by those who have derived the history from secondary sources. Though the small discrepancies in the accounts seem unimportant, it is important that all the facts are available. "I am reminded particularly of this situation when I think about the name `Waycross.' In my family, the story runs like this:

"Mr. Haines invited Miss Isabella Remshart and Mrs. William Foster Parker, her sister, to ride with him on his car out a little way towards Brunswick where he was to review some work being done by one of his crews.

"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, it is reported by Mrs. Bell, then commented, `Way-a-cross' would make a good name for the railroad station --or a new town.'"

In her book, "History of Ware County," Mrs. Walker relates that Dr. Lott, Col. Haines and others met in a Blackshear hotel; and, with the assistance of B. F. Allen, editor of the town's "The Southeast Georgian," they studied a complete map of the future Southeast Georgia town. Col. Haines had earlier called it "Railroad Crossing." It would be later when he received the idea from Mrs. Parker.

But the word "cross" made an impression. Stanton says the decision was simple: "Add `Way' to `Crossing' and eliminate that last syllable." Mrs. Walker, however, indicates that it was not quite that simple: "Editor Allen suggested that there is a place in North Georgia called `Norcross,' connecting `North' and `Cross.' The names `Westcross,' `Eastcross' and `Southcross' were brought forward, but they did not cause a stir. `Crossways' and `Newcross' were suggested, with `Newcross' receiving a nod, only to lose because the town would someday grow old."

A reporter for the "Pearson Tribune" in 1949 takes up the story: "An official of the old Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad, now a part of the Atlantic Coast Line, dropped in the office of the Blackshear paper for a friendly visit and said to Editor Allen's father that a new town was in the making ten miles away and that he wanted a name for it. This name must carry the idea that the newly created town represents the extreme South Georgia pathway to Florida, as Norcross represents the upper part of the state as an entranceway into Tennessee.

“`Southcross’ and `South Port’ and other names were suggested, but they did not fit the picture. Young Allen was setting type in the rear of his office and heard the discussion: `Why not name it “Way Cross”?’” he asked. “`The crossing of one state into another.’” The young man was heard, and a name was selected. That is second of the several versions of the naming of our town.

A “Savannah Morning News” 1911 edition reports an entirely different story: “When Waycross was first planned, the late Henry B. Plant conceived the idea of building a town in the shape of a Maltese Cross, then used as a part of the coat-of-arms for the Plant System. With this idea in mind, the proposed `Way Cross’ (Crossing of the Ways) was laid off like a Maltese Cross. Necessarily this design caused quite a number of triangles in the city, at first looked upon with bare tolerance, but today pointed to with pride because of the improvements that have been made highlight the triangles as beauty spots. The existence of the triangles resulting from its peculiar shape has given Waycross a park system second to none and one that in the course of time will be prettier than any park system in the country. Only this year the city has spent quite a sum in permanently improving some of the triangles making them rest havens for citizens and visitors. Around these triangles substantial business blocks have been built.

“In honor of the man who planned Waycross and who did more for the development of cities along his railroads than any other railroad owner of his time, Waycross named its main street after him. Plant Avenue is the longest street in the city, paved its entire distance with vitrified brick and gravel, with palmettoes and oaks on either side that make it an avenue of beauty as well as business.”

Finally, “Waycross” scored as the name. The Rev. Mr. Thomas, one of those early pioneers, “always contended that it was providentially named as `Way of the Cross’ and that here was the center of world,” adds one historian.

 

Copyright© 2002 by Robert L. Hurst  
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