Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites
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HISTORY

Victorian Era Resort Period 1893-1920s
FDR Comes to Warm Springs
Dr. Roosevelt
The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation
The Birthday Balls
Housewarming at the Little White House
Birthplace of Many New Deal Policies
Happy Times
Dedication of The Memorial
The March of Dimes
The Roosevelt Institute
The Georgia DNR




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Victorian Era Resort Period 1893 - 1920s

During the late 1800s, a resort for people seeking relief from sultry cities and air adulterated with smoke from multiplying chimneys of the new industrial age formed around naturally warm springs that had been discovered less than 100 miles south of Atlanta. Drawing from the attraction of these springs, the Meriwether Inn did a thriving seasonal business. The inn was a large, rambling building with gingerbread on its roofline, curlicues in its woodwork to shame an old-fashioned penman, gables galore and contours unclassifiable in architecture. The inn welcomed two generations of guests who, in the early days, arrived by stagecoach from the railroad depot at Durand, Georgia. The nearest village was Bullochville, which took the name of Warm Springs in 1924.

At the turn of the 20th century the automobile proved that it could take travelers farther away for relaxation, and the Meriwether Inn went into decline. By 1924 it had become a rundown resort, still gracious with hospitality, still loved by a few who had known it in more fashionable days, but hardly to be suspected of future growth or importance.



FDR Comes to Warm Springs

In the fall of 1924 a private citizen from Hyde Park, New York, came to the Meriwether Inn. He was a man in the prime of his life who had been stricken by poliomyelitis; also known as "infantile paralysis." His legs were useless. Improvement had been agonizingly slow for three years. But Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Warm Springs to try to overcome his crippling condition, and in doing so, gave the sleepy little village and the waning resort a new, meaningful destiny.

Roosevelt didn't know that, not then. Nobody knew. He came because his friend George Foster Peabody had purchased an interest in the old Meriwether Inn from its original owners, Charles Davis and Davis’s niece, Miss Georgia Wilkins. Peabody told Roosevelt about Louis Joseph, a young man whose own polio symptoms appeared to improve after swimming in the warm springs. Minerals in the water were also believed to have curative powers for a variety of conditions. Roosevelt stayed at the resort only a few weeks, but it was the first of many visits, visits that were to change not only his own life, but also the lives of many others who had suffered from poliomyelitis. And it was here, 21 years later, that fate ordained his life's work should end.

In those early days he swam in the public pool, located about 500 yards from the shabby elegance of the Meriwether Inn. He swam, and was startled into belief in his own progress by the greater ease with which he was able to move his lame legs underwater. He was discovering for himself the value of hydrotherapy, an ancient healing art that today has become part of the growing profession of physical medicine.



"Dr. Roosevelt"

Without a scientific or medical background, Roosevelt consulted with local physician Dr. James Johnson. Together they tried to figure out why the swimming helped on the basis of physical facts. Which muscles were used? How could one test returning strength? The two men didn't find the answers, but they set the stage for later, scientific work along these lines.

"Unofficial hydro-therapist" Roosevelt developed a muscle chart that was used to guide polio patients as they came to Warm Springs to follow his example. ''You would howl with glee,'' he told a friend, ''if you could see the clinic in operation and the patients doing various exercises in the water under my leadership.''



The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation

It had been the dream of the man from Hyde Park to found a center for after-care of poliomyelitis at Warm Springs. With four other men whose interest he obtained, Roosevelt formed the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, a non-stock, non-profit institution. Among the incorporators were Roosevelt, George Foster Peabody, Basil O'Connor and Louis Howe.

In 1926, Roosevelt bought the property that would eventually house the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. The purchase totalled 12,000 acres and included the Meriwether Inn, rental cottages, pools, and land where FDR would build the Little White House. FDR paid $195,000 for the property, two-thirds of his personal fortune. He began to create and design the first modern treatment center for infantile paralysis in the country. As he struggled to rehabilitate his own withered limbs, he devoted himself for the first time to helping others.

Roosevelt and architect Henry Toombs designed a new pool complex in addition to the old Meriwether Inn's existing pools. The new pool complex featured an indoor pool, a play pool and an exercise pool while extending the public pools for the resort visitors. However, the old resort soon fell into ruin as visitors vanished, fearful that they might contract polio by swimming in the public pools.

The Georgia Hall was built soon after as a part of the new polio treatment center. This new hall was built, impressively, using money donated by average Georgians. It was named in their honor. Built in front of the Meriwether Inn, the Georgia Hall was constructed with a dining room where Roosevelt held the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Over time, it came to replace the old resort, which had become known as "the fire trap."

The new buildings that went up, the new interest that mounted, and the wider ripples of hope that spread from Warm Springs throughout the nation were all made possible by the generosity of the people who shared the dream of the man from Hyde Park. In 1932, those same people helped elect him the 32nd President of the United States.



The Birthday Balls

On January 30, 1934, the first Birthday Balls in celebration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's birthday were held throughout the country. They were sponsored by the American people for the benefit of polio treatment centers across the country. More than $1,000,000 was raised that first year, a level of funding that was equalled in 1935, 1936 and 1937. By that time, the horizons of the dream had begun to grow.

"I want to say, tonight, just a word about the present and the future. As you know, our work, year by year, is spreading; spreading all over the country. This past year we have gone into almost every community of the land and because of a certain Birthday Party that was held last January the good people of this country contributed over a million dollars to the cause of fighting infantile paralysis. It was a fine thing that people did in all of those communities and I think that we should make it very clear that of the million dollars, not one penny of it, came to us here at Warm Springs. Seventy per cent of it, seven hundred thousand dollars, has been used and is being used today to help young people and middle-aged people and old people in getting well in their own respective communities in every State of the Union. And, equally important I think, the other thirty percent of that splendid gift has been distributed by a very distinguished committee of doctors to be used in a dozen different places in research work to find out, for the benefit of future generations, how best we can stop in our country the spread of these epidemics that are almost annual occurrences."

FDR - November 28, 1935, Warm Springs, Ga.



Housewarming at The Little White House

During all the years he had been coming to Warm Springs for periodical treatments at the pool, Roosevelt had been residing in various summer cottages, but in 1931, in the midst of his second term as governor of New York, he oversaw construction of a house on a beautiful site overlooking a wooded deep ravine on the north slope of Pine Mountain. It was completed in the spring of 1932, the same year he was elected president. The "Little White House" cost $8,738.14, including landscaping, insurance premiums and architect's fees. Roosevelt moved in around the first of May and was completely delighted with it. On May 5th he gave a big housewarming party "for the residents of the village of Warm Springs, also the foundation patients, guests, employees, and cottagers." Telephone operators were also instructed to call rural residents in the entire nearby area and invite them and their friends. It was a merry occasion and he was a happy and gracious host. This was the first of many not only delightful, but also momentous events to take place in the Little White House.



Birthplace of Many New Deal Policies

Some of the most far-reaching policies of the New Deal were actually formed in the Little White House. The ideas for the National Bank Holiday and the Rural Electrification Administration both had their inceptions in its rooms. As well, the bill for creating the REA was signed here. Many techniques for improving livestock breeding, crop rotation and reforestation were developed and demonstrated near Roosevelt's Little White House. The Civilian Conservation Corps, "the CCC" as it was called, employed many a young local man during the Depression-weary years.



Happy Times

Visits here were amongst the happiest times of Roosevelt's life. From the moment he was greeted by the villagers as he stepped down the ramp of his special train at the tiny Warm Springs station, until he drove himself, followed by Secret Service men, in his blue automobile with the specially-constructed hand controls for a last look at Shiloh Valley from the top of Pine Mountain, he was "one of the Foundation gang." Each time, he was that man from Hyde Park, seeking strength and health and happiness.



Dedication Of The Memorial

After his death from a cerebral hemorrhage here on April 12, 1945, thousands of visitors sought to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House. The trustees of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, to which he willed the Little White House, were not organized to provide the special administration that would be necessary. Their job was, and is, in the field of rehabilitation. A decision was reached to donate the properties to a public agency on the condition that they be suitably administered as a memorial. In keeping with the conditions, the State of Georgia established the Franklin D. Roosevelt Warm Springs Memorial Commission in January 1946. It was a separate state agency, self-perpetuating, self-supporting and autonomous, consisting of 17 commissioners who served without pay. The memorial was formally dedicated as a national and international shrine on June 25, 1947, and was opened to the public October 28, 1948.



The March of Dimes

National efforts to end the disease of poliomyelitis began on January 3, 1938, with the formation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Founded by Roosevelt and presided over by Basil O'Connor, the new foundation was to "lead, direct and unify the fight" against poliomyelitis. Radio personality Eddie Cantor called it a "march of dimes," and the phrase stuck. On April 12, 1955, ten years to the day after Roosevelt's death, the first vaccine was introduced. The Salk vaccine did not cure polio, but it did prevent it. The vaccine was great news because it ended the fear. Polio patients continued to come to Warm Springs throughout the 1940s and 1950s, but they were ever fewer in number.



The Roosevelt Institute

The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation is now known as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. People with a wide variety of disabilities are served in the institute's multi-faceted programs. The Little White House is now an historic site with over 100,000 visitors per year. The pools complex now has a museum for visitors to come and see the realization of the dream that Franklin Delano Roosevelt built. Patients, students and visitors alike come here. They leave with a sense of belonging to a special fraternity, all the members of which understand a little better what they have done and what they must do. Theirs is a proud faith in themselves to face the future with the spirit of Warm Springs, of the man in the Little White House.



The Georgia DNR

In July 1980, administration of the memorial was transferred to the Parks, Recreation, and Historic Sites Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Warm Springs Memorial Commission is now an Advisory Committee, dedicated to helping preserve the historic integrity of The Little White House.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


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