Downtown Plains, Georgia. Photo by @benjamingalland

Downtown Plains, Georgia. Photo by @benjamingalland

Presidential Legacies in Georgia

Three U.S. presidents have had strong connections to Georgia. Explore their lives and legacies in these towns.

Georgia’s fascinating role in presidential history centers on the lives of three different men from very different backgrounds. From Augusta in the eastern part of the state to Warm Springs in the west and Plains in the southwest, you can visit key sites today that reflect the characters of these men and their work for our nation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was an aristocratic son of privilege, while Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer and Navy officer. But in the White House, both focused on making life better for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Woodrow Wilson brought his youthful experience traveling the South with his clergyman father to use in his presidential vision of global community.

Jimmy Carter

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Jimmy Carter’s younger years are memorialized throughout his tiny hometown of Plains, much of which is now the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. The former Plains High School now depicts the teen years of Carter and his lifelong sweetheart, wife Rosalynn. Along Main Street is Carter’s old campaign headquarters, filled with colorful political memorabilia from his runs for state senate, governor, and president.

Oval office desk at Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Georgia. Photo by @benjamingalland
Oval office desk at Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Georgia. Photo by @benjamingalland

The excellently maintained Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm a few miles outside town provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the Carter family. It was a hard but fulfilling life close to the soil and to the community, forming the future president’s outlook on working people and the need for racial equality.

Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. Photo by @benjamingalland
Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. Photo by @benjamingalland

For many, though, the highlight of any visit to Plains is Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church, taught by the former president himself several times a year – his humor, warmth and intelligence on full display. (While in the Plains area, make the short drive to Andersonville and visit the Andersonville National Historic Site, a stirring and poignant tribute to sacrifice, patriotism, ingenuity, and resilience throughout American history.)

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum in Atlanta houses the president’s papers and hosts several exhibits, all on a beautifully landscaped campus. The adjacent Carter Center, though not open to the public, continues the president’s mission of building global community.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt at F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Warm Springs, Georgia.
Statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt at F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Warm Springs, Georgia.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s connection to the Warm Springs/Pine Mountain area goes back to his time as New York governor. In fact, the scenic and expansive F.D. Roosevelt State Park – the largest in Georgia – is mostly on land the president owned. You can even picnic at FDR’s favorite outdoor lunch spot at Dowdell’s Knob on the Pine Mountain Trail within the park.

Exhibits at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia.
Exhibits at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia.

From the collar of presidential pup Fala to the “dictating machine” Victrola to the room where FDR passed away in 1945, Roosevelt's Little White House State Historic Site in Warm Springs offers a touching and intimate look at the president’s “home away from home” during his long tenure in the nation’s highest office. The adjacent museum is a compelling chronicle focusing on FDR’s Georgia legacy, particularly his remarkable and groundbreaking work to improve the treatment and care of disabled Americans.

A short drive away are the Roosevelt Pools, where the president and others with disabilities dipped into in the healing waters for which the town is named. Every Labor Day weekend, the pools are filled, and you can take a swim yourself.

Woodrow Wilson

Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson in Augusta, Georgia. Photo by @historicaugusta
Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson in Augusta, Georgia. Photo by @historicaugusta

As a young man, Woodrow Wilson moved all around the Southeast. But Augusta hosts the recently renovated Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson, where the future two-term president (known then as “Tommy”) spent his formative years. It was where he spent the most time in any residence, where he first learned of the beginning of the Civil War, and just around the corner from where he saw former Confederate president Jefferson Davis under guard after his capture.

Published: February 2020