The phrase “U.S. president” recalls images of Washington, D.C. — maybe the white dome of the U.S. Capitol or the white spike of the Washington Memorial. Georgia doesn’t necessarily inspire ideas of American presidents, but the region southwest of Atlanta was home to two: Jimmy Carter and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There are many ways for groups to take in the area’s presidential history and enjoy the state’s heritage and scenery.
In the city of Cordele, 140 miles south of Atlanta on Interstate 75, groups will find the main depot of the Historic SAM Shortline Railroad. The train runs from Cordele 47 miles west to the community of Archery and offers a variety of itineraries: generally, full-day excursions with a layover stop in one of the cities. But 90 percent of SAM’s departures are to Plains, where Carter still lives and where passengers disembark to visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.
“They’re going to see President Carter’s hometown, where he still lives and is his community,” said Terry Miller, site manager for the railroad.
At the historic site, Plains High School serves as the park visitors center and museum, and the Plains Train Depot, which Carter used as his campaign headquarters, houses a self-guided museum with exhibits that focus on the 1976 presidential campaign. A little farther down the tracks, the train stops just steps from the front porch of Carter’s boyhood home in Archery. At the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm, groups can arrange guided walking tours that take them back to when Carter lived there, from 1928 to 1941.
But SAM itineraries stop in other cities as well. At the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum in the town of Leslie, “everybody that goes in there, comes out amazed,” Miller said. The museum is housed in a restored cotton warehouse, and although exhibits feature antique telephones and switchboards, they also include classic cars, tractors and nautical items.
The city of Americus delivers lots of Victorian charm and plenty of quaint shops. The Windsor Hotel is an elegant 1892 redbrick hotel complete with a tower and a turret in the heart of downtown. The historic landmark closed its doors in 1972 and reopened in 1991 after a $6.5 million renovation.
“It literally looks like a castle in the middle of downtown,” Miller said.
One block over, guests can take in a show at the restored 1921 Rylander Theatre. Americus is also home to Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village and Discovery Center, a six-acre village where visitors can see life-size replicas of Habitat houses from countries around the world. Guests will also learn about Habitat’s founders, Millard and Linda Fuller, and how Carter’s personal involvement helped raise awareness and promote Habitat’s cause.
The region offers more to see and do, including more presidential sites.