Plains, Georgia, the hometown of former President Jimmy Carter, is about 30 minutes from Andersonville. So when we finished with Andersonville National Historic Site in mid-afternoon, we rushed to Plains with the hope that we’d have a couple of hours at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site before it closed.
It was clear from the moment we drove into Plains, that we were in Jimmy Carter country. From the large banner on a storefront in the tiny historic district declaring Plains the home of Jimmy Carter to the signs that lined the streets declaring “Jimmy Carter for Cancer Survivor,” Carter owned Plains.
Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States. He was born in Plains in 1924, the scion of a well-to-do merchant family descended from an early 17th century Virginia colonist. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and he was a naval officer, a state senator and governor of Georgia before he became president. Oh, and a peanut farmer. And he still lives in Plains. On our way to the Carter NHS, on the main road through the middle of town, we passed the Carter compound. It was in an upscale area, but didn’t stand out from the rest — except for the very high iron rail fencing and the Secret Service guard house in one corner of the property.
There are several locations associated with the Carter National Historic Site. We started at the former Plains High School, now the Carter NHS visitor center and museum. Both the President and Mrs. Carter went to school there.
The museum concentrated on Jimmy Carter’s childhood in Plains, on his campaigns and on his life after the presidency. We’d have to go to his presidential library in Atlanta for the presidential stuff. An exception to the no-persidency rule was a replica of the Resolute Desk. It’s the desk that sits in the Oval Office and has been used by all the 20th century presidents. This replica — and I know that many of the other presidents’ libraries and museums have them — is there so that people can sit behind it and pretend to be president. No I didn’t, but Mr. HT did. The original was built from the timbers of the HMS Resolute and given to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 by Queen Victoria.
Despite my focus on the presidential desk, what I liked the most about the museum was the sense it gave of the place and people who influenced Jimmy Carter through his childhood and made him the man (and the president) that he was. I always thought his insistence on being called “Jimmy” officially, as president, and his “aw sucks I’m just a peanut farmer” persona were hokey. But the museum helped me understand that was who he genuinely was.
After the museum, we headed to another part of the Carter NHS, the Carter Boyhood Farm. It’s a couple of miles from the school, on the edge of town. The family lived on the farm while his father owned a general store downtown. Jimmy lived there from age 4 until he left for college. It’s been restored to the way it looked in the mid 1930s. It’s very Waltons.
The bedroom (and the bed) was Jimmy’s. The entire farm is self-guided and we were the only people there. Signs in the rooms told us about each one.
It started raining as we were wandering the fields. We ran back to the car and ended up doing a drive-by of the final Carter NHS site: the Plains Train Station that was Jimmy Carter’s campaign headquarters when he ran for president. A cute story from the introductory film at the visitor center: pretty much the entire town went to DC for Jimmy’s inauguration. They leased a train to take them there. And the Plains Garden Club did the White House flowers for the inauguration.
When we were in the Carter NHS visitor center, a staff member came chasing after us with a large camera. “Can I take a photo of you in front of our sign?” she asked Mr. History Tourist. The Carter NPS media people follow the American Samoa NPS media feeds and Mr. HT was wearing an American Samoa NPS t-shirt. So she wanted a photo of Mr. HT to share with the AS folks. I wish I had gotten a photo of her taking his photo,but I didn’t. But if you go to the Jimmy Carter NHS Instagram page, you’ll see Mr. HT rockin’ his neon green National Park of American Samoa t-shirt.
And just last week, President Carter announced that he was cancer free.