Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 2nd Visit to Georgia
October 3 - 20, 1924
October 3, 1924 - Roosevelt first visited Warm Springs. He and his wife Eleanor arrived at the train station at dusk; a friend had arranged a car to drive them to the cottage where they would stay. The main visiting season was over, but a small staff remained at the local hotel - the Meriwether Inn (see photo on this page). On the way to the cottage Roosevelt commented on the clean air and pine trees in the vicinity. That first night Roosevelt was kept awake by squirrels running across the roof of his cottage.
October 4, 1924 - Roosevelt took his first swim in a Warm Springs pool. He said he had never felt water so pleasant. Whether the water had any special healing effects is unknown, but soon Roosevelt was able to stand in four feet of water - something he had been unable to do previously.
October 5-20, 1924 - Eleanor left soon after Roosevelt was settled in the cottage. Roosevelt stayed at Warm Springs, swimming almost daily. He also began to explore the local countryside and towns. It was here that Roosevelt got his first glimpse of rural southern poverty; it left a very strong impression on him - one that helped shape many of his New Deal programs a decade later. During this time he wrote Eleanor, then back in New York:
“...The legs are really improving a great deal. The walking and general exercising in the water is fine and I have worked out some special exercises also. This is really a discovery of a place and there is no doubt that I’ve got to do it some more. . . .”
Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1905-1928, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 566.
Further evidence that Roosevelt quickly formulated plans for Warm Springs, and was touched by the surrounding countryside, can be found in two more of his personal letters. The following excerpts were written in October of 1924, to his mother:
“. . . I spent over an hour is the pool this a.m. and it is really wonderful and will I think do great good, though the Dr. says it takes three weeks to show the effects. Everyone is most kind and this afternoon Mr. Loyless has taken us for a motor trip through the surrounding country—many peach orchards but also a good deal of neglect and poverty. . . .”
Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1905-1928, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 564-5.
“. . . When I get back I am going to have a long talk with Mr. George Foster Peabody who is really the controlling interest in the property. I feel that a great ‘cure’ for infantile paralysis and kindred diseases could well be established here. . . .”
Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1905-1928, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 568.
While there was little press coverage of this first visit, the Atlanta Journal did send down a reporter who did a special for the Sunday Magazine issue of October 26, 1924. This piece was notable for several reasons. First it showed how Roosevelt early on took an interest in the surroundings of Warm Springs. Second it exhibited the pleasant personality that would charm and reassure so many over the next twenty years. Finally it showed a photograph of Roosevelt with his withered legs; very few such photos were taken after he became a national figure. The article is quoted at length:
“Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York lawyer and banker, assistant secretary of the navy during the World War, and Democratic nominee for vice president in 1920, is literally swimming himself back to health and strength at Warm Springs, Ga.
A graduate of Harvard and Columbia universities, an athlete of note in both Alma Maters, an outdoor lover from his boyhood, fond of nature, . . . Mr. Roosevelt was of strong physique and great endurance until he was stricken during the infantile paralysis epidemic in New York in the year 1921. In fact, he had answered the call of the wild, as was his wont before his illness, and was at a hunting lodge in the Maine woods when the paralysis struck him.
Mr. Roosevelt does not know how he contracted the dread disease, and does not regard himself as more outstanding or unfortunate than the hundreds of other adults who became victims at the same time by the disease usually confined to childhood. All he does know is that he was hit, and hit hard, with the result that both of his legs were immovable for many months. Gradually he acquired the skill necessary to drag himself around on crutches, and, undaunted, he was a prominent figure in the Democratic national convention in New York last June, making a memorable address. . . .
It was a sort of coincidence that brought Warm Springs, Ga. to Mr. Roosevelt’s attention. Three years ago Louis Joseph, a New Yorker who formerly lived at Columbus, hit upon the idea of trying Warm Springs as the locale for a fight against the effects of infantile paralysis. [Joseph helped arrange and stayed with Roosevelt on his first visit to Warm Springs.] He was in far worse shape than Mr. Roosevelt, it is said, but he bathed persistently in the waters of Warm Springs, where the pool has a natural temperature of 90 degrees the year round. . . .
Tom Loyless, former Augusta and Columbus newspaper publisher, who is now in charge of the development of the Warm Springs properties, casually mentioned the case of Mr. Joseph to George Foster Peabody, New York philanthropist, who is associated in the Warm Springs enterprises.
‘That gives me an idea. I’ll get my friend Franklin Roosevelt down here, if I can,’ Mr. Peabody exclaimed.
Mr. Loyless was in New York recently, and Mr. Peabody arranged for an interview between Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Loyless. The result was that Mr. Roosevelt rented a cottage at Warm Springs, and arrived there on October 3 to give the baths a try-out.
Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Loyless, in adjoining cottages, are the only residents of the dozen or more small houses surrounding the Warm Springs hotel at the present time. The hotel has closed for the winter season. Mr. Loyless is acting as official host to Mr. Roosevelt, and is giving him the run of the reserve, and of several counties, for that matter.
The distinguished visitor has the large swimming pool all to himself for two hours or more each day. He swims, dives, uses the swinging rings and horizontal bar over the water, and finally crawls out on the concrete pier for a sun bath that lasts another hour. Then he dresses, has lunch, rests a bit on a delightfully shady porch, and spends the afternoon driving over the surrounding country, in which he is intensely interested.
Not only are the swims and the sun baths delightful innovations to Mr. Roosevelt, but his method of living is enchanting, he admits. Living a full half mile from the town of Warm Springs, formerly known as Bullochville, he is protected from the intrusion of the curious, and is even favored by infrequent mail deliveries. He expressed real relief at being two or three days behind the news of the world. . . .
‘I am deriving wonderful benefit from my stay here,’ Mr. Roosevelt said. ‘This place is great. See that right leg? It’s the first time I have been able to move it all in three years.’
Mr. Roosevelt does not attribute any medicinal effects to the Warm Springs waters, but he gives the water credit for his ability to remain in it for two hours or more, without tiring in the least, and the rest of the credit for his improvement is given to Georgia’s sunshine.
‘The best infantile paralysis specialist in New York told me that the only way to overcome the effects of the disease was to swim as much as possible, and bask in the sunlight. Conditions here are ideal for both prescriptions. The water in some way relaxes muscles drawn taut by the disease, and gives the limbs much greater action. The sunshine has curative effects, I understand.’
So marked have the benefits been in his case, Mr. Roosevelt plans to return to Warm Springs in March or April, to remain two or three months. At that time he will build a cottage on the hilltops that he may spend a portion of each year there until he is completely cured. Even then he plans to keep coming back, as he ‘likes Georgia and Georgians,’ he remarked.
Nobody can explain why the waters of Warm Springs, flowing from the foot of Pine Mountain, are almost as warm as the average person’s blood. Nor can anyone explain why the waters on the other side of the mountain, where the United States fish hatcheries are located, are unnaturally cold.
Mr. Roosevelt made no effort to explain the phenomenon, but he did remark ‘poor fish’ with a characteristic grin. . . .
Mr. Roosevelt has made a great hit with the people of Warm Springs who have met him, and they are extending him a hearty welcome as a prospective regular visitor. A number of Georgia’s public men have also called to pay their respects and extend greetings. Georgians who attended the Democratic national convention have been especially cordial, because they appreciate the interest Mr. Roosevelt showed in them. . . .
‘Say! Let’s get one of the hot dogs this man makes just outside the swimming pool. They’re great,’ Mr. Roosevelt challenged. With him everything in Warm Springs is ‘great’ or ‘fine’ or ‘wonderful.’ That is the spirit that has carried him to remarkable heights for a man just past his fortieth year, and it is the spirit that is going to restore him to his pristine health and vigor, for political and financial battles and successes in the years to come.”
Source: Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, “Franklin Roosevelt Will Swim to Health,” October 26, 1924, p. 7.
One final note on Roosevelt's first trip to Warm Springs. One of the natives of the town remembered him commenting on the weather during his visit: "I have been here for twenty-one days and it has been wonderful. Not one drop of rain. I think the citizens should change the name of the county from Meriwether to M-e-r-r-y W-e-a-t-h-e-r." Source: Ruth Stevens,
Hi-Ya Neighbor, Turner and Love, Atlanta, 1947), p. 9.
Copies of the Atlanta Journal article were syndicated nationwide, prompting a flood of requests from polio victims and their families to visit Warm Springs. Meanwhile Roosevelt did much more than plan to come back the following spring, he and several of his friends, including Peabody and Macon newspaperman Tom Loyless, had big plans for improving Warm Springs.