From railroads to runways: How Warner Robins got its name

Warner Robins is named after Army General Augustine Warner Robins / Matt Mackie (WGXA)

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. -- Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms said that when he was growing up, he didn't realize just how much of a military town his city was.

So much so, the city got its name from a military leader.

Before World War II, there was a small Middle Georgia community called Wellston. Only 50 to 60 people lived in the town, which had a small railroad depot and country store.

At the start of the war, the U.S. Army selected Wellston to become home to an air depot. The air depot's first commander, Lt. Col. Charles E. Thomas, wanted to name the depot after his friend and mentor, General Augustine Warner Robins.

Mike Rowland, curator of the Museum of Aviation, called Robins the "Father of Logistics."

"How do you move all of the material, all the people, the supplies, the equipment, the weapons, how do you get them from one place to another to be able to carry out the Air Force mission?" Rowland asked. "General Warner Robins was essential to that."

However, the Army had strict regulations.

"The rule at the time was that the base had to be named after the nearest city or town or community that it was close to, that was Wellston," Toms said. "So the base was originally named Wellston Army Air Depot."

Not satisfied, Thomas convinced the community of Wellston to change it's name to Warner Robins on September 1, 1942.

"He approached the city, their people, and he asked if they would consider changing the name," Toms explained. "The way I understand it, they changed the name of the city to Warner Robins, and it became Robins Army Air Depot."

The rest, as they say, is history.

The depot became Robins Air Force Base in 1948 after the U.S. Air Force was created.

While the base contributes just under 3 billion dollars to the state's economy, Mayor Toms says that the close ties mean more to his community.

"Even in a bigger way than just 'we need them' or 'we hope they need us,' It's real. We're tied together at the very inception."

Rowland said that it's rare to have an instance where a town and a base grow up together.

"There are many bases and many towns around the country, but you'll find very few that have the very close, tight relationship that the City of Warner Robins and Robins Air Force Base have," Toms said.

General Robins never visited the base. He passed away a few years before it was named for him, but his descendants have been honored by the city and have visited his exhibit at the Museum of Aviation.

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