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A Day Away: Warm Springs, Georgia

By Mike Steely

It’s not what you would expect.

The complex is large, the museum extensive, and the grounds well kept, but the house is much smaller than even I imagined it would be. I’m talking about the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, the retreat of our longest serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Given his wealth, stature in society and his physical disability, you’d think the house would be larger. But it’s basically a little two bedroom house on a hillside. It was all that he needed, however.

FDR didn’t stay at the house excepting every now and then when he wanted to get away for some privacy and his health. When he heard of the warm springs there he went to see for himself. The waters helped him with two different disabilities and he eventually bought the springs and created pools that he and others could use. From 1920 until his death there in 1945 he’d return to Warm Springs.

The little hilltop town is southeast of LaGrange and survives on tourism and those who come for the warm water, even nowadays. Today the pools that he used are open to the public but when my wife and I were there recently the old pools were closed because of leaks and are being repaired.

The pools are below the hill behind the Little White House. There’s also a large spa called the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, ran by the state, with 89 degree waters that are used for post-polio suffering, spinal cord injuries, strokes and other disabilities.

The Little White House is furnished much as it was when FDR stayed there. There’s a small kitchen, two bedrooms, a small entry room, and a room in the back for his secretary. He began staying there before being governor of New York and President. When he became president, Marine Guard Houses were added in the front lawn and a guest and servant’s quarters to the property nearby.

The museum has many items that belonged to FDR and his family, including two cars that were specially equipped so that he could drive them. He designed the special controls. The entire complex is rightfully handicapped accessible and very interesting. The museum makes no secret that FDR had companions and lovers and that his wife, Eleanor, visited there very little. His children, however, stayed there often. There’s also a jam-packed gift shop.

The last thing you’ll see coming back from the house and on your way to the exit is a portrait that was being painted the day he died. It is incomplete and exhibited in a small building along with a finished portrait the artist painted from memory.

Operated by the state of Georgia, the Little White House complex is only an hour southwest of Atlanta. The easiest way to get there is by way of LaGrange if you’re headed south. That puts FDR’s final day just about five hours from Knoxville.

That’s only a Day Away and well worth a stop.

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