Rising from the Plains

We didn’t know much about former president Jimmy Carter, when we visited the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Georgia. Many may not even think this is worth the detour, but it was. We went to the park with no expectations, not sure what we might learn from it, but came away pleasantly surprised. The story was very inspirational: a farmer’s son from a small community in the deep south who grew up with no running water or electricity, who lived in public housing when first married, who went on to become the 39th president of the United States and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Plains High School

Start your visit at the Plains High School Museum and Visitor Center. There you can see a movie that talks about President Carter and his wife Rosalynn – both products of the small town of Plains, Georgia. You can see the classrooms where they studied and you can even sit in a vintage old school desk.

Displays show both Jimmy and Rosalynn as school children. You can follow the story of Jimmy Carter from the time he was a child, documented with photos and videos. It was fun to see what schools were like in the 1930’s. It was really cool to see that the students took part in maintaining the school grounds. Their teacher started a program where they took a day to prune and plant. Something that would be good for every kid, even today!

There is a mock version of the white house desk where you can take photos, and there is a ton of old memorabilia … campaign buttons, photos, artwork, and even his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. One room is dedicated to the accomplishments after the presidency – in particular the Jimmy Carter Foundation. Through this organization, Jimmy Carter has been able to continue his service.

Plains Depot

After visiting the school, walk to the historic downtown area and visit the Plains Depot. This was the campaign headquarters, basically there because it was the only facility in downtown Plains that had a restroom!

It was a great story of how the community came together to support their local guy. There were interesting displays and a great movie (on an old RCA TV) about the campaign.

This simple, easy-going guy, walked from door to door to meet people all over the country, and so did people from his home town. It was truly a grassroots campaign. When he was elected,  he held true to this, being the first president to abandon his limousine and walk a mile and a half down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House after his inauguration. It was Carter’s way of saying that he meant it when he said he planned to stay close to the people.

Hint: while you are downtown, be sure to get some fried peanuts and peanut ice cream. Yummy!

Boyhood Home

A short drive out of town is the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home. Here you can see where he grew up. You can visit his house, learn about his childhood life and friends. You can see the farm and the pecan trees that his mother referred to as “growing green on trees” because each season she harvested and sold the pecans.

You can also see the store the family maintained and listen to an audio segment where President Carter talks about being called each night from dinner to serve a customer in the store. In fact, one of the best parts of the tour are the audio segments where the former president narrates aspects of his life at the farm. This is really special because usually these places are put together posthumously whereas here former president Carter plays a very active role.

In fact, President Carter still plays an active role in his community. He has retired to live permanently in Plains, Georgia and teaches Sunday school at least a couple times a month. He even had a book signing … scheduled for just a couple days after we were there unfortunately.

Rising from the Plains

As we said, we didn’t know much about President Jimmy Carter, but what we learned here was very interesting and inspirational. It really is all about a place where any school kid can grow up to be president…

Hint: If you are in the Atlanta area after, be sure to drop by the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. You can go there and walk the path to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.