I See Georgia: Warner Robins
When we began our tour of Georgia, we had a list of places we planned to visit. Macon, Milledgeville, Savannah; But we knew that eventually we’d be going to towns that weren’t on our radar at the beginning. Sooner or later, we’d find ourselves in a city we’d never considered spending time in before.
Warner Robins was such a place. To be sure, we’d heard of it. What other town was renamed for the express purpose of allowing its military base to be granted the same name? It happened like this:
In the early 1040s, Wellston was a small farming town. During World War II, the War Department made plans to build an air depot in the Southeast. Wellston community leader Charles Bostic “Boss” Watson worked with officials in Macon to make a bid to locate this air depot in Houston County. In June 1941, the U.S. government accepted this offer, which included 3,108 acres of land.
This air base was initially called Wellston Army Air Depot when it opened in 1942. The first commander was Colonel Charles E. Thomas. He wanted to name this depot in honor of his mentor Augustine Robins, who was called by his middle name, Warner. Regulations prevented him from doing this, which required the base to be named after the nearest town.
Colonel Thomas persuaded Boss Watson and the other community leaders to rename the town of Wellston. On September 1, 1942, the town was given the new name of Warner Robins. Soon after, on October 14, 1942, the base was renamed to become Warner Robins Army Air Depot. The city has a unique name, shared with no other town in the United States.
The only other thing I knew about Warner Robins was that it is the hometown of one of my favorite former Georgia Bulldogs, Ben Smith. Smith, a great defensive back in the late 1980s, was the 22nd overall selection in the 1990 NFL draft. He went on to play several seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles and Phoenix Cardinals. Beyond that, the city was a mystery.
We left Athens on a hot, early July morning at just after 11:00am. Heading South (as we have on so many other occasions during this tour) we passed through the small town of Shady Dale before entering Monticello. A quick question for you Monticello natives: Is there a local law that requires every vehicle in town to pull a trailer behind? I just want to know. Each truck or car we encountered was towing a trailer, many of which did not carry a load.
After navigating the sea of empty trailers, we passed through the Piedmont wildlife refuge. Huge trees lined both sides of the road for miles and miles. We drove along, enjoying the view and making good time in the light traffic.
We bypassed Gray, skirted Macon, and covered the last few miles of our 108-mile trip. We entered Warner Robins at just after 1:00pm, and immediately set about finding a good meal. For much of our tour, we’ve tried multiple restaurants in each city or town. But lately, due to both cost and the relative small size of many of our destinations, we’ve focused on one meal.
For this trip, there was one restaurant that stood out as a must-try: Greek Village. We here at the Bear Team love Greek food, and this place promised to satisfy our cravings. All the reviews were good, so we made our way there.
When we arrived, the situation didn’t look especially promising. Greek Village was located in a stand-alone building in front of a mostly vacant strip mall. But sometimes the best food can be found in unlikely places, so we parked and walked inside.
As soon as we entered, I knew we were in the right place. The floor was checkered tile, and the walls were covered with photos obviously taken in Greece. We were directed to a booth by the window and immediately began to peruse the menu, which featured both Greek and Italian food. Everything sounded good, but I eventually settled on a falafel sandwich with fries, while Dena opted for a gyro sandwich with salad.
When the food arrived, it was every bit as good as we’d hoped. The falafel was crunchy and delicious, and the gyro was great. We polished off everything, including the extra salad that we mistakenly received free of charge.
Full and happy, we headed across town towards the main reason for our visit, the Museum of Aviation. The museum, which is listed as the second largest aerospace museum of the U.S. Air Force, is located on the grounds of Robins Air Force Base. We parked in the adjacent lot and headed inside.
The museum consists of several structures. We entered the Eagle Building and plunged immediately into a world full of military planes and memorabilia. I’m not much of a war buff, but the sheer number of displays and the volume of information was impressive. Everywhere we looked stood a decommissioned plane from the past, with a placard explaining when and where it served in battle. We walked around, checking out planes from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars.
Eventually, we crossed a courtyard featuring flags from each state and entered another building. The most impressive display inside was entitled “Fallen Defenders of Middle Georgia,” and honored soldiers from the area who died in battle. For the next couple of hours, we moved from building to building, checking out everything there was to see. It was an educational experience, and only deepened my respect for those who serve in our defense.
When we left the museum, it was hot! I don’t mean normal hot. I mean dangerously hot; the kind of hot you only get South of the fall line. We decided to check out downtown, but immediately encountered a problem: There was no downtown. It seemed that Warner Robins had grown up around the base, with government buildings like courthouses and police stations sandwiched in between restaurants and retail stores.
There didn’t seem to be much else to do, so we merged onto I-75 and headed North. When we reached Macon, we decided to try to find a way to access the Ocmulgee River, something we’d been unable to do on our visit to the city in April.
We went to a website which gave us the address of a park which supposedly ran parallel to the river. Dena programmed the address into her phone. The GPS, in a decisive manner, guided us promptly into a subdivision. We passed house after house until the robotic voice suddenly announced: “You have arrived!” Given the fact that we were stopped directly in front of a group of kids playing basketball in the street, I found this statement to be highly improbable.
A little more online research turned up the Ocmulgee River Greenway. We programmed the address into the phone, and then spent the next 45 minutes swerving across lanes of traffic, cursing, looking for any likely entrance, dodging jaywalking pedestrians, cursing, questioning the family lineage of the iPhone programmer and the creator of Google, crossing over the interstate, cursing, and developing facial tics.
Suddenly, as we crossed the I-75 bridge for the 14th time, there it was! We took a sharp turn onto a paved driveway and we were there. We got out of the car and, a few steps later, stood looking out over the river.
We took a walk along the greenway, taking in the view. By now, it was early evening, and the area was mostly deserted. We crossed a bridge where a feeding creek backed up behind a pile of brush and saw a duck and several ducklings of various colors swimming happily on the dark water.
We’d been walking for about half an hour when a rumble of thunder told us that the time had come to head home. Soon we were back on the road. Things went well until we turned onto the Gray bypass, at which time one of the hardest rains I’ve ever encountered exploded overhead. Huge raindrops pelted the windshield as water began to pool on the road. At least it cooled things off a little!
As we crawled along, the realization hit me: this is what explorations are all about. What would a road trip be without its fair share of hardships? Travel is wonderful, exhilarating, terrible, and draining; sometimes all at the same time! I wouldn’t trade the time we’ve spend on these trips, even when that time seems to last forever.
That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Warner Robins, visit the official website at http://www.wrga.gov/.
Next time: We’ll venture East to a city whose motto, “We Feel Good,” says more about its history than a text book ever could. It’s the hometown of the Godfather of soul, Augusta!