Location: Plains, Georgia
Webpage: National Park
General Description: President Jimmy Carter lived and grew up on a farm outside of Plains, Georgia from the time he was 4 years old until he left for college at the Naval Academy. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the town of Plains. Technically, the National Historic Site consists of the renovated Plains High School, which serves as the Visitor Center and Museum, the Train Depot, which was the campaign headquarters for his Presidential runs, Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home/farm, and the Carter Private Residence and Compound, which is not open to the public. However, the small downtown area of Plains has also retained its look from the time of Carter’s presidency. Except for the high security fence surrounding the Carter’s residence, visitors will get a real sense of life in the rural south and will better understand the moral and religious qualities that Jimmy Carter brought to the White House. How a small town boy growing up in the Depression on a large farm in the rural south can become President of the United States is a story that can only be understood by a visit to Plains. The importance of education to this process is evident in the love and care the citizens of Plains hold for their High School, which required major renovations before becoming the Visitor Center and museum for the National Historic Site. The Train Depot was the only vacant building when Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter expanded their campaign for President and has been maintained as their headquarters since that time. The Carter Residence and Compound are not yet open to the public, but visitors can get a video tour of the residence done by the Carters in the museum. Finally, the boyhood home and farm of Earl and Lillian Carter have been reconstructed to 1938 after electricity came to the farm. Along with the home, the site includes a clay tennis court used by the family, a windmill that provided running water to the house, the milking barn, the storage barn, the commissary used to sell supplies to local tenant farmers, house of Mr. Clark, the foreman in charge of the tenant farmers, the pecan orchard, and vegetable garden.
1) By locating the Visitor Center in the old Plains High School means there is enough room to create an extensive museum about rural life in Georgia in the 1930s, as well as, the life and career of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. There is a very good movie about the importance of Plains, Georgia, to Jimmy Carter in the auditorium of the High School. One of the classrooms is set up with desks from the 1930s along with a video of the teacher and superintendent, Miss Julia Coleman, who inspired students that they could grow to do anything, including being President of the United States. There are exhibits about life in Plains and growing up on the farm, his early political career as State Senator and Governor of Georgia, his campaign for President, his Presidential accomplishments including the Nobel Peace Prize (which is on display), and his many philanthropic accomplishments since his Presidency.
2) The childhood home of Jimmy Carter is a great example of how rural Southerns dealt with the Depression, finding many ways of making a living on a farm. Along with cash crops of cotton, peanuts, corn, and pecans, Mr. Earl Carter ran a country commissary or store and gas station along the highway of the time. All of the hired help that worked this 360 acre farm and the other nearly 2000 acres of farms and forests he owned was done by African-American tenant farmers. This meant that all of the boyhood friends of Jimmy Carter were the children of African-American tenant farmers which formed his Civil Right views he brought to Washington.
3) I strongly recommend taking advantage of the walking tour of the property. Since it was a cold Saturday morning in January, we were the only visitors and had the pleasure of getting a personal tour. It was much more informative than the interpretive signs, although they also had a number of audio narratives done by President Carter. Our NPS tour guide was a young female that grew up in the area, had a history degree, and was clearly excited about our interest in learning about President Carter and life in the 1930s.
4) They had running water in 1935 and electricity by 1938, so the farmhouse was set up using period pieces for that time period. Cooking was done using a wood stove, the radio was battery operated, and Mr. Earl had installed a cold shower in the bathroom using a bucket hung from the ceiling with holes in it.
5) The most amazing sight was the clay tennis court next to the house. Mr. Earl loved the game and President Carter claimed he was never able to beat him. In his defense he left home to attend the Naval Academy and did not return to live in Plains until after his father had died after a short career in the Navy.
6) The Carters had a number of large barns near the house to supply the needs of the farm.
7) Mr. Earl Carter maintained a small country commissary or store on the property that provided food, medicine, and supplies to local farmers. There was even a gas pump selling gasoline to passing motorists on the highway. Anything they did not stock could be ordered from Sears and delivered to the train stop just across the road.
8) Most of the work on the farm was done by African-American tenant farmers. The home of the farm’s foreman, Mr. Clark, has also been restored and is open to the public with furnishings from the 1930s.
9) The National Historic Site is a joint program with the town of Plains, which has maintained the short block of downtown and the train station, which was used as Jimmy Carter’s Campaign Headquarters, as it was in 1975.