I’ve visited Ford Theater in Washington, DC, site of the Lincoln assassination and seen the limousine JFK was riding in when he was shot. I’ve toured many historic homes claiming George Washington slept there, but I’d never visited Warm Springs, Georgia, site of the FDR Little White House.
Before my tour, I hadn’t realized that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died there. That fact alone makes it all the more memorable (in a macabre sort of way) and a must- see.
Warm Springs is a bit off the main roads, near Roosevelt State Park and Callaway Gardens or about 80 miles south from Atlanta. The tiny town (current population approximately 500) was a resort area before Roosevelt started visiting.
Roosevelt arrived on October 3, 1924 in what was then called Bullochville, hoping to find a cure for polio which he contracted in 1921. The next day, he began swimming and immediately felt an improvement. For the first time in three years, he was able to move his right leg. By his return in 1925, other patients were coming in the hope of a cure. In 1926, he bought the resort property and 1,200 acres from George Peabody for about $200,000. Seeking medical advice and contributions from his friends, he organized the nonprofit Warms Springs Foundation in 1927 turning property over to the foundation.
FDR visited every year except 1942, during WWII. He always came at Thanksgiving and celebrated the meal with the polio patients at the Foundation. In 1932 he built a small retreat: a Greek Revival style house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, and living/dining room. There is a wooden sundeck off the back that overlooks the woods.
When he became the 32nd President of the United States, the getaway became known as the Little White House (is indeed white). The cottage is more like a rustic cabin on the inside with a casual and cozy feel. I entered through the kitchen, saw his wheel chair (rarely used in public), the living area, his and Eleanor bedrooms, his secretary’s bedroom (or shall we say mistress?). I counted three old black dial telephones.
In addition to touring the house, the Park Service maintains a small museum with FDR memorabilia. First stop, and highly recommended, was the short movie narrated by Walter Cronkite. I learned of FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration, which grew out of his exorbitant electric bill at Warm Springs. The Warm Springs bill was much higher than his Hyde Park, NY property. This program became instrumental in bringing electricity to rural areas at affordable prices.
The museum contains a timeline of FDR’s life and number of his personal articles, like canes, stamp collections, and his 1938 Ford. He personally designed the hand controls so he could drive the vehicle. He also designed the cottage’s “bump gate” which swings open when the car’s fender bumps into it. It closes by itself!
Roosevelt returned to Warm Springs for the last time near the end of the war in 1945. Just back from the Yalta Conference, he planned to work on his address for the United Nations Conference. On Thursday, April 12, he posed in a favorite chair near the fireplace for a portrait by Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff. Suddenly, he suffered a massive stroke. He was carried from the room into his bedroom. He died later that same afternoon. The “Unfinished Portrait” is on exhibit at the historic site, along with a finished copy.
Today, the Roosevelt’s Little White House remains the same as it was the day the president died.
After perusing the gift shop, I drove to lunch at the cutesy Bulloch House which offers southern hospitality and southern cooking. Pick from a buffet of fried chicken (very moist) to fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas, squash, greens, cornbread, biscuits, and salads. The price is very reasonable. Of course, I had to finish with one of my favorites – peach cobbler. Our waitress was moonlighting: she is none other than the mayor of Warm Springs! Now, I said it was a small town, but worth a visit. —by Debi Lander, RFT Contributor