Southeast Georgia: A Presidential Refuge
With all the media coverage and frenzy heading into the 2016 Presidential Election, it was particularly appropriate for my husband and me to seek out two tiny towns in Southeast Georgia recently that were brought to prominence by the former U.S. Presidents who loved them. Plains, GA, birthplace and current home of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and Warm Springs, GA, where Franklin D. Roosevelt built his Little White House, are only 70 miles apart, a drive of less than an hour and a half.
Although both men ran as Democrats, the similarity ends there. FDR had the background of an aristocrat from New York. He attended the most prestigious schools and proudly claimed his kinship to yet another former President, Theodore Roosevelt. He was the only President to be elected to four terms and led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. FDR found Warm Springs, GA after he contracted polio. He heard that the thermal waters had healing powers and hoped they would lead to a cure. He wasn’t cured, but he did find relief and returned so often that he built a small home there in 1932, while he was Governor of New York and shortly before his first inauguration as President.
In fact, the Little White House is where he was when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945, while sitting at a desk having his portrait painted. He was taken to his bedroom and feverishly attended to by his doctor, but died a few hours later. The house, which has been kept just as it was the day he died, is open for tours and presented by the Georgia State Park Service. An FDR Memorial Museum and the very impressive Walk of Flags and Stones are also worth several hours of your time.
The staff on the grounds of the Little White House is knowledgeable and conscientious. Everything is noticeably handicap accessible in recognition of the challenges that FDR faced throughout his life. More than 100,000 people visit the site each year, which is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
For dining and lodging options, go to nearby Pine Mountain, GA. The town itself has several cafes and restaurants, but you will certainly want to enjoy the grounds of Callaway Gardens with its villas, cabins and resort accommodations. Country comfort food is on the menu at the Country Store and Kitchen, and the Gardens Restaurant—open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays—offers scrumptious gourmet, chef-prepared dishes.
Jimmy Carter, in contrast to FDR, was born in relative obscurity. He was the first U.S. President to be born in a hospital, but was taken home to a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. His parents owned a peanut farm, a warehouse and a store on the outskirts of Plains, GA. When he was just 10 years old, he started stacking produce in the back of a wagon, hauling it to town and selling it. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class at Plains High School, then got his college education after he was accepted to the Naval Academy.
Jimmy Carter was passionate about the issues of equality, desegregation and human rights. That platform, plus his unquestioned moral character and incredible work ethic, led to his election as Governor of Georgia and then to one term as President of the United States.
Perhaps his most important achievement as President was the signing of the Camp David Accord, a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. But, the end of his presidency was marred by the Iran hostage crisis in which 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days and weren’t released until President Carter left office.
Some have said, though, that President Carter is the greatest FORMER President we have ever had. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work toward alleviating human suffering through The Carter Center, which he and his wife, Rosalynn, established in Atlanta. He and Rosalynn still volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and former President Jimmy Carter continues to maintain a schedule of teaching Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains. Plains High School has been converted into the Visitors Center and houses informative displays and a gift shop featuring books by President Carter.
In 2015, Carter was diagnosed with liver cancer and melanoma with lesions in his brain. However, he will turn 92 on October 1, 2016, and storekeepers on Main Street in Plains see him in town often, walking down the street with Rosalynn and Secret Service agents headed to the Old Bank Cafe, Mimmie’s Diner and other quaint eateries downtown.
Plains Historic Inn and Antique Mall is your best bet for lodging in Plains, but be aware that it stays completely booked on weekends when the former President is scheduled to teach Sunday School. Seven rooms are available, each decorated to match several decades of President Carter’s life, 1920 through 1980. A private bath, wireless internet and complimentary continental breakfast are included in the room rate.
This 70-mile stretch in Georgia contains valuable information and insight into the lives of two men who had a profound impact on our country. I urge you to plan a visit at your next opportunity.