Has Rich History
By Renee Pearman
Days before renovation was to begin on the old Charles Thomas School,
David Cranshaw strolled through its fading green halls, with the
smell of chalk and mimeograph ink still lingering in the air, in
search of his first-grade classroom.
Thomas School as it looked in the
The photo is from the book A
Land So Dedicated and is used with the author's permission.
“I just wanted to see it one last time before the gutting
started,” said Cranshaw, referring to the transformation of
the 58-year-old, long-vacated elementary school into Macon State
College’s new Warner Robins Center.
Scheduled to open in fall 2003, the Thomas School, to be called
the Thomas Building, will be part of Macon State’s permanent
campus in Houston County along with a 25,000-square-foot annex being
constructed behind the original structure.
“I walked down the long halls and found my first-grade classroom,
and it looked exactly as it did when I was a scared 5-year-old walking
into that school for the first time,” said Cranshaw, who has
lived most of his 57 years in Houston County.
“We had split days back then, morning sessions and afternoon
sessions. I was in Mrs. Walden’s morning class. I was a few
months younger – and smaller – than a lot of the other
kids in my grade, and I remember being terrified that first day,
but I also remember Mrs. Walden making everything just right.”
And now Macon State College is making everything just right, Cranshaw
said, first, by establishing a permanent campus in the thriving
county, and second, by preserving the brick building’s architecture,
including its arched exterior windows, corridor breeze sashes and
the familiar white cupola with the rooster weather vane on the roof.
“Warner Robins is still a young city compared to most communities
in this state,” said Cranshaw, a journalist for nearly four
decades who now is editor of The Buyers Guide in Warner Robins.
“In fact, the school and the city are about the same age,
which means the Thomas School is one of the oldest existing buildings
in this town.
“Having Macon State move in is one of the most considerate
yet practical moves that can be entertained, in my opinion, and
my hat’s off to all those who made it possible. And that the
college intends to maintain the architectural integrity of that
wonderful building tells me a lot about Macon State.”
The history of the Charles Thomas School is actually part of the
history of Robins Air Force Base, said Bobbe Hickson Nelson, author
of “A Land So Dedicated,” which chronicles the history
of Houston County.
Months before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, construction began
on a military depot across the railroad tracks from the town of
Wellston in north Houston County. Originally called the Wellston
Air Depot, the name of the military installation was changed to
Robins Field, then Warner Robins Army Air Depot and finally Robins
Air Force Base.
The city of Warner Robins and Robins AFB are named in honor of
Brigadier General Augustine Warner Robins, who served as chief of
the Material Division, Army Air Corps, from 1935-1939. When Robins
was a major in the 1920s, he selected Second Lt. Charles E. Thomas
Jr. to be his aide. Two decades later, Thomas, by then a colonel,
became the first commander of the Wellston Air Depot.
Recognizing that the community’s population was going to
continue to swell along with the number of military and civilian
employees arriving at the air depot, Thomas and other depot representatives
met with the Houston Board of Education in 1942 to discuss the need
for a public school. The city’s first mayor, C.B. “Boss”
Watson, donated land approximately a half mile from the air depot,
and, with a $100,000 federal grant secured, construction of a school
started in 1943.
The school was named in memory of Col. Thomas’ elder son,
Army Air Force Second Lt. Charles Thomas III, a West Point graduate
who was “lost at sea” during a training flight in May
The Thomas School suffered growing pains from the day it opened
in 1945. The 11 classrooms were expected to accommodate 600 to 800
first- through 11th-graders, but those rooms and the school library
were filled just with students in grades one to four. An annex eventually
was completed, but, meanwhile, children in the upper grades had
to be relocated, and administrators had to deal with a transient
teaching staff, according to a community report submitted by a Houston
educator not long after the school opened.
Thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and five principals
have walked the halls of Thomas School on Watson Boulevard. Nola
Brantley, for whom the Warner Robins library is named, was the first
principal (1945-69). Betty Bynum was the principal when the Board
of Education decided to close the school at the end of the 1993-94
In 1994, the Board sold the building to Fellowship Christian Academy,
which seven years later sold it to the city of Warner Robins for
$762,000. Late last year, Mayor Donald Walker and the Warner Robins
City Council voted to donate the 32,000-square-foot Thomas School
and the six acres it sits on to the University System of Georgia’s
Board of Regents, the governing body of the state’s 34 public
colleges and universities, to use for the Warner Robins Campus.
Did you attend Thomas School? Share your memories with
Macon State College. E-mail your thoughts to: firstname.lastname@example.org