Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Warm Springs for the first time in 1924. He came seeking relief from the crippling effects of polio…but as it turns out this quiet rural enclave gave him so much more.
In the comforting waters of the pools, he was free of the braces, canes and wheelchairs that both aided and hampered his physical movement.
Buoyed in the warm, comforting water he relaxed, splashed, played and was even occasionally dunked by enthusiastic young participants. Polio had no favorites; it struck people of all ages and was oblivious of social privilege.
Although he found no cure, Warm Springs became a comforting haven for FDR. In 1927 he bought a formerly-popular inn with its surrounding 1,700 acres and began plans to build a personal retreat. A small clapboard house with outbuildings was completed in 1932 while he was still serving as Governor of New York. He employed Henry Toombs, do the design. The construction included a cottage, garage, servant’s quarters and guest house, all completed at a cost of $8,738, including landscaping. This retreat was a far cry from the grand surroundings into which he had been born in Hyde Park, New York, on January 30, 1882.
Also in 1927, Roosevelt and some of his friends founded the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation to help provide support for care of those suffering from the effects of polio and for research to help stem its spread. With Roosevelt’s support the organization grew and a national campaign called the “March of Dimes” began in 1938. The polio epidemic had already taken thousands of lives and left many people with permanent physical disabilities.
The “March of Dimes” campaign had been started prior to FDR’s birthday in 1938 with much publicity and support coming from motion picture celebrities and studios. Radio broadcasts promoted the campaign and special events were held across the country to raise money for the cause. The appeal was extremely popular with both young and old especially since a dime was within the reach of all who wanted to donate. Thousands of people responded by mailing cards and letters carrying dimes (and more) to the White House. The response was so great that it swamped the White House mailroom and raised over $85,000 dollars that year.
In Roosevelt’s radio broadcast on his birthday (January 30, 1938), he reported the delivery to the White House of forty to fifty thousand letters the previous day…making this the finest present he had ever received.
The museum has two of his vehicles FDR used while he was in Warm Springs: a custom built 1940s Willys Roadster…
…and a 1938 Ford convertible that was specially equipped so he could drive the vehicle himself.
As he drove over the clay roads of rural Georgia, he would stop and talk with local people. His passion for the people of the area grew during these travels as he learned first-hand of the effects of poverty and the devastating and lingering effects of The Depression. Although more populated areas of the country were experiencing signs of recovery this wasn’t true for those isolated areas. These encounters helped shape his thinking as he developed the policies and social programs that were eventually included in “The New Deal.” One of the most obvious outcomes of those policies was the spreading of the electric grid all the way out into these hills.
When we left the museum, the first building we came to was the Servants’ Quarters where his cook, Daisy Bonner, stayed as well as FDR’s valet, Irving McDuffie, and his wife.
Government officials, cabinet members and other visiting dignitaries stayed in the one-bedroom Guest House.
A short walk from these two buildings was FDR’s beloved Little White House. Here he was able to work without the ever-present distractions of Washington, and he was also able to relax and visit with friends and family.
We entered the home through Daisy’s kitchen where she prepared the president’s meals.
The heart of the house is a wood-paneled combination Living Room and Dining Room, mostly furnished with pieces built in a factory established during the Great Depression for unemployed craftsmen by his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.
To each side of this area were two bedrooms. The president’s room holds a single bed and his working desk.
The demands of the office, especially the United States’ involvement in WWII, left FDR exhausted and in failing health. In spite of this, he pushed on against his doctor’s advice and his best personal interest. He attended the Malta Conference in January 1945 where he met with Winston Churchill and military leaders to plan the final campaign of the war against Germany. Exhausted after Malta, he returned to these quiet hills and his beloved home.
On April 12, 1945, FDR spent a peaceful morning in the company of family, friends, advisors, and his dog, Fala. He was also scheduled to sit for a portrait that his long-time companion, Lucy Mercer, had arranged. While Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff painted, FDR sat at a table in his living room, editing the Jefferson Day Address that he was scheduled to give the next day. Shortly after lunch he complained of a headache and collapsed.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died of a massive stroke there in his beloved Little White House where “The Unfinished Portrait” hangs today.
The following are words from the Jefferson Day Address that FDR was editing at the time of his death.