Just a few hours southwest of Atlanta is a community that seems trapped in time. Every time I visit there, I always feel refreshed. It’s like I’ve visited the “old Georgia” I remember as a kid – it’s where folks wave to you when you meet them in the road and where no one seems in a hurry to get from one thing to another.
I’m talking about the little towns of Pine Mountain and Warm Springs, separated by the beautiful, mountainous FDR State Park. Charles and I used to visit there regularly, usually in the spring or fall, enjoying the area, which includes the glorious Callaway Gardens (that’s another column).
A few weeks ago, I went back to Warm Springs with my cousin, Teresa; her daughter, Mary Kate; and Mary Kate’s friend, Courtney. Mary Kate, a middle schooler, is a burgeoning history buff, and was anxious to see Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House just outside Warm Springs.
FDR, then governor of New York, built the Little White House in 1932 while he was still governor of New York. He had come to the area in the early 1920s looking for a cure for the polio that had struck him a few years earlier. He fell in love, not only with the healing “warm springs” whose waters soothed him and allowed him to increase his strength and mobility, but with the mountainous countryside and the people who lived there.
Many credit his experiences among his Georgia neighbors for helping inspire many of the “New Deal” programs during his presidency, including the REA (Rural Electrification Administration). He died at the Little White House in 1945, after suffering a stroke while posing for his portrait.
We ate lunch at the Bulloch House, an excellent restaurant in Warm Springs housed in the former home of Benjamin F. Bulloch (1851-1910), for whom the town of Bullochville, now Warm Springs, was originally named. The restaurant is Southern all-you-can-eat buffet style and the food there is true down-home Southern cooking (think fried green tomatoes and crunchy-fried chicken).
Afterwards, the girls wanted to explore some of the small shops on the main drag – most of these are located in former dry goods and other stores. An old hotel from days gone by is still in operation on the corner.
I have never met a rude person in Warm Springs or Pine Mountain — everyone, and I mean everyone I’ve met — has been kind, polite and more than helpful. They will answer your questions as if you are the first one (and not the 1,000th) to ask them, and most show a genuine interest in their visitors.
In one antique mall, we spoke with a lady whose family has always lived in Warm Springs. She told us how her mother would chat with President Roosevelt when he would drive around the countryside in his 1938 Ford convertible, equipped with hand controls. He might come driving along the countryside and decide to stop for a bit. Sometimes he would escape from his Secret Service detail – and noticing dust clouds in the distance, he would make his apologies and take off before they got there.
I always hear these kinds of stories when I go there, and I never get tired of them.
After our shopping excursion we headed up the hill toward the Little White House.
A museum was built six years ago at the entrance to the grounds, and it contains the 1938 Ford, a stagecoach he owned and exhibits containing many of his personal items. One of those items is a little glass paperweight in the shape of a dog. I have one exactly like it that was my mother’s – I’ve never seen another anywhere else.
His “fireside chats” play over a 1930s radio and a theater shows a short film about his life and presidency. The house itself has been meticulously preserved since the day of FDR’s death – with the same, now yellowed towels on the racks and even the toilet paper on the rolls. The unfinished portrait, which used to sit on the easel in the living room where it was when he died, has in recent years been moved to the museum and is the last stop during a self-guided tour of the Little White House.
After visiting the Little White House grounds, the admission ticket includes a trip to the pool complex where FDR first came to receive his water therapy. The pools are usually kept empty for preservation, but are filled with the 88-degree spring water on occasion. (One such occasion, called “Swim the Warm Springs, Dip Into the Past” is coming up Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4 – 6.)
And FDR’s influence in the Warm Springs area isn’t just about the past – near the pool complex is the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation that provides vocational rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities so that they can continue their education and acquire job skills while they learn to live independently. The institute was originally opened for polio patients and is now a National Historic Landmark.
We ended our day with a drive through FDR State Park, with gorgeous scenic views that rival any other mountain drive in Georgia. Though we missed it on this trip, one of my favorite spots in the park was FDR’s picnic spot, Dowdle’s Knob.
Warm Springs, Pine Mountain and all its attractions are about a three-hour drive from here, but well worth the trip. You can drive through Atlanta, or go south through Madison, Monticello and the backroads. (That’s the way I’d recommend since we inevitably get stuck in traffic – as we did on this trip – when trying to navigate through Atlanta.)
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for The Madison County Journal.
You mention a glass dog paperweight. I was at the Little White House on 10-24-11 and saw that. My mother has one that she got from Tom Reid of the University of Georgia in about 1948 of 1949. Mr. Reid had it as long as my mother can remember. I think it is the same one that FDR had on his desk. Do you know how I can find out more about the little dog?
10/27/11 at 08:50 PM
I think the little dog was given to him because of "Fala" his little dog. I have tried looking it up, but have not been able to find out more. I did see a couple listed on eBay - they were just a few dollars each. I would love to know more. My mother had it as long as I can remember too, and it has been with me since her death 31 years ago.