On a winter day in 1906, a group composed of some of Bulloch County's most prominent citizens boarded a train and traveled east, to Savannah, with one goal in mind.
The delegation of 50, all pillars in the local community — doctors, lawyers, business leaders, elected officials — were en route to the port city to win rights to host the First District Agricultural and Mechanical School.
More than a few delegations — from surrounding communities such as Claxton, Waynesboro and Stillmore — filled the DeSoto Hotel to stake their own claims, but the Bulloch contingent won out. And the rest, as the idiom goes, is history.
On the strength of a bid that included 300 acres of land atop the town's highest hill, utilities, and $60,000 in cash (a total bid price of $125,500), the school was awarded to Statesboro, where it would blossom into Georgia Southern University.
On Friday, nearly 107 years removed from that December day, the delegation that would become known as the "Fabulous Fifty of 1906" was honored by the Bulloch County Historical Society.
The organization commemorated the seminal group with the latest in a series of historical markers that celebrate Bulloch's past.
Members of the historical society unveiled the large plaque in downtown Statesboro, just a few steps from where the delegation boarded, and stepped off celebrating, the passenger train that ran from Statesboro to Savannah — at the starting and ending point of the Willie McTell Trail on East Main Street.
"This was such a significant event in Bulloch County's history because it really set the tone for the character and growth of this community and the school," said Dr. Brent Tharp, the historical society's program vice president. "The community has always felt this to be their school, and it is. This delegation knew what it would mean in the long term to have this college here."
More than 30 people, including relatives of those "Fabulous Fifty," attended the dedication.
The brown plaque features gold-leaf lettering that, on one side, tells the story of the "Fabulous Fifty" and, on the other, lists the names of members of the delegation.
The sign reads, in part: "Some citizens virtually emptied their bank accounts to make the town's dream come true. The train conductor blew the whistle for the final mile home, beckoning everyone to come to the station to celebrate."
The idea to establish agricultural and mechanical schools throughout the state was that of Georgia's "education governor" Joseph M. Terrell.
Terrell wanted one school in each of the state's then-10 congressional districts.
The bid to bring what would become Georgia Southern to Statesboro was the highest bid paid for any A&M school developed in the state during that time, according to Tharp.
"Georgia Southern would not be Georgia Southern if not for those 50 fabulous people who took a chance, and who recognized the great potential to bring economic and academic opportunity to small, little Statesboro," Georgia Southern University Provost Dr. Jean Bartels said. "The fact that the historical society would think do this, and make this marker happen, is an outstanding testament to the continued linkages, collaborations and love between Georgia Southern and this community."
The marker is the 14th erected in Bulloch County by the Bulloch County Historical Society and is supported by the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.