A winding two-lane highway snakes beneath a canopy of longleaf pines and old-growth hardwoods. Beneath the towering evergreens, smaller sourwood, sumac, and rare Georgia oak trees dazzle with their rich red and orange foliage. The leaves along this Meriwether County road are some of the last in the country to reach their peak color.
Ask any Atlantan, “How do I get to the mountains?” and most will send you north via I-575, 400, or I-985 to familiar towns such as Blue Ridge, Ellijay, and Clayton. However, a less-crowded stretch of Appalachian foothills lies south of the metro area at the southern edge of the Piedmont plateau—just a few miles north of the gnat line.
Everyone and every place along Georgia Highway 190 between Warm Springs and Pine Mountain has a story to tell about the man whose legacy left a lasting impression on this area: President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. The local buildings and structures, which now make up F.D. Roosevelt State Park and the Little White House Historic Site, stand as narrative and testament to the leadership and hard work that delivered the nation from the burden of the Great Depression.
Roosevelt first visited Warm Springs in 1924, and he returned many times before dying here in 1945. Seeking relief from polio in the naturally warm mineral springs, he built his home away from home, which eventually became known as the Little White House.
As part of his New Deal, Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps and dispatched workers to the area in 1935. The CCC established Camp Kimbrough in Chipley, known today as Pine Mountain. With only shovels, pickaxes, and brute strength, CCC workers built what is now Georgia’s largest state park. By hand, they dug two lakes and a swimming pool shaped like the Liberty Bell. They also constructed a fish hatchery, an inn, and a boathouse.
The log or stone cabins where they resided remain and provide today’s guests with an intimate connection to the region and the Yankee president who loved it. My wife and I recently spent a weekend in one of the original Depression-era CCC cabins. The cabins have fireplaces, kitchens, bathrooms, and air-conditioning. The ranger on duty could not recall when the modern conveniences were added, but judging from the furnishings and the explosion of names and dates carved into the walls, the improvements date back to at least the sixties.
The park’s main attraction is the challenging twenty-three-mile Pine Mountain Trail. It extends from property in Warm Springs once owned by Roosevelt to the intersection of Georgia Highway 190 and U.S. Highway 27 in Pine Mountain, with short loops through every section. The Roosevelt Stables also provide guided tours on twenty-eight miles of horse trails.
We decided to hike a two-mile trail from the cabin to the Liberty Bell pool. The 572,000-gallon, spring-fed pool is closed after Labor Day, but it is worth the hike to see the handmade flagstone pool.
In the morning, we visited Roosevelt’s Little White House and the Historic Pools Museum in Warm Springs. The Little White House Museum displays artifacts from throughout the president’s life, including his 1938 Ford. During stops in the area, he would remove the car’s backseat and sit on it while chatting with neighbors. The blinding-white therapy pools are available for tours, but they are filled and opened to the public only twice each year.
After touring the Little White House, we stopped by local roadside favorite Mac’s Barbeque—known for delicious standards such as pulled pork, Brunswick stew, and coleslaw—for lunch, then perused the Art in Motion Museum, a quirky but intriguing collection of vintage motorcycles (the area is popular with bikers), Tiffany lamps, jukeboxes, and other ephemera that feels like a carnival sideshow. (Another popular Warm Springs eatery, the Bulloch House, is famous for fried chicken and fried green tomatoes.)
The following day, we explored Pine Mountain, with its quaint antique stores and restaurants. We visited Rose Cottage (rosecottagega.com), where the line between teahouse and antique store is indistinguishable. Nearby Sages Soda Fountain is a throwback to days gone by with its menu of deli sandwiches and frozen desserts.
To really understand what Roosevelt loved about Georgia’s southern mountains, we drove out Highway 190 and turned at the Dowdell’s Knob sign to visit the president’s favorite picnic area. As we reached the park’s highest peak, a bronze figure came into view beneath the autumn leaves. It’s the president, looking south toward the coastal plain in the Pine Mountain Valley. He’s still there, not far from his grill, sitting on the removed backseat from his ’38 Ford with a little room to spare.
LODGING AND DINING
F.D. Roosevelt State Park gastateparks.org
(CCC cottages from $110 nightly in October)
1 Main Street
Bulloch House Restaurant
47 Bulloch Street
Sages Soda Fountain
153 North Main Avenue
Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Natural Resources