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“Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs”

(The following article appeared in the The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983 and is reprinted with permission.)

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs

by William B. Rhoads

Franklin Roosevelt was proud of his Hudson Valley Dutch ancestry and always proclaimed Hyde Park as his true home. But Hyde Park had rivals – Campobello, New York City, Washington, and most seriously, Warm Springs, Georgia, which he called his ‘second home.” Wherever he was, FDR yielded to his desire to build: a swimming pool at Campobello, houses in Hyde Park and New York, government buildings in Washington and Dutchess County, cottages and a hydrotherapeutic center in Warm Springs. (1)

Architecture was one of FDR’s main non-political interests. In 1934 he told members of the American Institute of Architects that if he were a young man, he might well enter their profession. Henry J. Toombs (1896-1967), architect for most of FDR’s private building projects, recalled that he had “a strong, if untutored, architectural sense. he was quick to grasp, to see relationship in plans, and fertile in suggestions and ideas. He loved to build. Any project, new or in progress, excited his interest.” (2)

His architectural taste was conservative. Described by Archibald MacLeish as “a political leader whose intellectual preoccupation was history,” FDR advocated historic preservation wherever he lived. Speaking in Warm Springs in 1937, he urged members of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at the University of Georgia to preserve the houses of nationally important historical figures, citing particularly the Georgia home of Alexander Stephens, vice-president of the Confederacy. (3)

In new construction, FDR preferred designs which revived the styles of the past. From his boyhood, he had been attracted by the old Dutch stone houses his parents pointed out on drives through Dutchess County. Abroad, the youthful Roosevelt was overcome by the excellence of English country houses and Italian palaces. In 1915 he convinced his mother to remodel their gawky Victorian house in Hyde Park into a Georgian mansion with fieldstone wings suggestive of local tradition. Later buildings sponsored by FDR in the vicinity of Hyde Park were even more clearly derived from the houses of his Dutch ancestors in the Hudson Valley. (4)

As a political leader who loved to build, Roosevelt identified with Thomas Jefferson. In the 1920s he hailed Jefferson’s “versatile mind” and insisted that “while a gentleman he had a better insight into the Republican form of government than did G. Washington or A. Hamilton.” As an expression of his reverence for Jefferson, FDR supported the preservation of Monticello from 1925 through his presidency. The New Deal made Jefferson its “patron saint.” In a Fourth of July address at Monticello in 1936 the President acknowledged that “more than any historic home in America, Monticello appeals to me as an expression of the personality of its builder. In the design, not of the whole alone, but of every room, of every part of ever room … there speaks ready capacity for detail and, above all, creative genius.” Furthermore, FDR proclaimed Jefferson both “a great gentleman” and “a great commoner.” “The two are not incompatible,” said the great gentleman-commoner from Hyde Park who found in himself a certain creative talent. (5)

Indeed, Roosevelt was confident of the correctness of his own ideas in design and planning – which sometimes discomfited professional designers. One of the perquisites he enjoyed as president was the opportunity to review and criticize the design of public works, especially those in Dutchess County and Washington, but he felt close enough to Georgia to exercise fatherly oversight there as well. In 1940, FDR proposed a government building in Warm Springs to house the post office and other departments. Casting a critical eye on the sample panels of brick that he requested from supervising architect Louis Simon, he rejected his early preference of a Georgia brick as too dark, and finally selected a handmade Pennsylvania brick. Roosevelt also gave CCC engineers the benefit of his experience as an amateur road designer. The engineers had laid out a highway near Warm Springs which was intended to be “scenic,” but FDR told the press that in fact it was merely “the shortest distance between two points … just up hill and down dale … so we are going out and re-engineer it… .” Lest the public think the president was usurping the role and authority of the professionals, he assured the reporters that “I don’t do the engineering – I leave that to the engineers. All I say is, ‘There is a lovely view.’ I have the aesthetic sense. ‘Can’t you possibly swing the road over 50 feet so I can see the view?’” (6)

The early architecture of the American South first impressed him during his years in Washington as assistant secretary of the Navy (1913-1920). In July 1913 he took a Navy yacht down the Potomac and visited Stratford. Writing Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR sketched Stratford’s plan and judged it “a wonderful old brick house… . It has huge chimneys and the woodwork tho’ brown painted could be made lovely.” Four years later he sailed the yacht up the James river: “We stopped at Lower and Upper Brandon, Westover and Shirley and went all over them… . Those old houses are really wonderful but not comfy!” The excellence of the Georgian designs of these houses appealed to Roosevelt as much as their associations with historical personages and events. Later, as president, he cited the architectural merit of the Richardson-Owens-Thomas house in Savannah (1818, designed by William Jay) when he argued for its preservation by the Interior Department. (7)

But Warm Springs was to be the center of FDR’s architectural adventures in the South. Struck by infantile paralysis in 1921, Roosevelt spent the years until his nomination for governor of New York in 1928 trying to regain the use of his legs. In 1924 he heard of a young man who had strengthened his polio-withered legs by swimming in the naturally-heated waters of Warm Springs. Roosevelt arrived in October of that year to find a dilapidated, late-Victorian resort hotel, the Meriwether Inn, adjacent to the decaying town of Bullochville (soon renamed Warm Springs). However, unpromising the surroundings, FDR discovered small signs of a new movement in his affected limbs while exercising in the large, open-air pool below the inn. (8)

Within days after his arrival, Roosevelt gave a pool-side interview to a reporter from the Atlanta Journal. “The best infantile paralysis specialist in New York told me,” he said, “that the only way to overcome the effects of the disease was to swim as much as possible, and bask in the sunlight.” The water and sun of Warm Springs immediately encouraged FDR to think that real recovery was possible, and so he announced plans to return in the spring of 1925 and to “build a cottage on the hilltop.” (9) Build he did, but not until he had purchased the resort (which included the springs, hotel, cottages, and about twelve hundred acres) in April 1926.

Who would design the cottage, and what form would it take? Roosevelt had sketched the preliminary plan and elevation for the remodeling of the Hyde Park houses, with his sketches revised and refined by the New York architects Hoppin and Koen. In the case of the Warm Springs cottage, he was to collaborate even more closely with the architect, Henry Toombs. Born in Cuthbert, Georgia, in 1896, Toombs was a great-nephew of the Confederate statesman and general, Robert Toombs. After three years at Annapolis and service in the Navy during World War I, Toombs finally settled on an architectural career, training at the University of Pennsylvania and in the prestigious offices of Paul Cret and McKim, Mead and White, where he became committed to Beaux-Arts classicism. (10)

In 1924, Toombs, still an inexperienced draftsman, first met Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt when Eleanor and three friends needed architectural assistance in designing a cottage near the main house in Hyde Park. Toombs was hired as architect of what came to be called Val-Kill cottage. This assignment, his first commission, exposed him at once to the problem of the “difficult” client. FDR oversaw every detail of design and construction, making certain that the Dutch Colonial fieldstone houses of the vicinity were faithfully copied and that alien features inserted by the young architect from the South were entirely excluded. (11)

As a newcomer in Georgia, FDR was eager to meet the people and to study their old buildings. He went on extended drives to Greenville and elsewhere, on at least one occasion photographing an antebellum Greek Revival house. (12) These photos (present whereabouts unknown) were the basis of FDR’s scheme for the exterior of his plain, wooden, Greek Revival cottage (fig. 1). (13) Toombs later remarked, “it is interesting that the character of this house … was a result of newly acquired enthusiasm for the simple Southern Greek Revival types (a far cry from his beloved New York Dutch Colonial).” (14)

Roosevelt found the planning of the interior equally or even more diverting, as several extant sketch plans reveal. Toombs recalled that “the plan, his own thought, involved the typical Georgia ‘dog trot’ central hall widened to become a central living room, with bedrooms on either side. There was no dining room – the living room serving also for that purpose… . He was an early enthusiast over that idea – liked its simplicity, informality and lack of pretension.” (15)

The client passed his sketches along to Toombs who, in June 1926, produced more detailed plans for FDR’s criticism: FDR suggested “eliminating the window in kitchen opening on terrace as it is not pleasant to be gazed on continually by Mary the colored treasure!” He also had a way of reducing the amount of excavation. “As to interior trim, I suggest … very wide 10 to 12 inch horizontal boards for living room – long leaf pine – what do you think if it were just oiled and not stained? Den could be the same, and bed rooms perpendicular pine stained or painted? I have lots of that good pine… .” Construction began in October; the cottage (fig. 2) had been completed in February 1927 when FDR wrote his mother: The new cottage is too sweet, really very good in every way, the woodwork covering all walls and ceilings a great success… .” In Dutchess County, Roosevelt took pains that the exterior walls of local fieldstone were properly laid; in Georgia he was similarly insistent on the character of the pine woodwork, which resembles that of early nineteenth-century vernacular interiors in the state. (16) Toombs may well have argued for some plaster walls or ceilings (as he did later for the Little White House), and FDR was pleased to find his own taste for unpainted woodwork vindicated, at least in his own eye.

Early in 1927 Roosevelt formed the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation as the vehicle for the creation of a health spa. According to Henry Toombs, FDR built his cottage “partially to induce other patients and friends to locate there… .” In fact Roosevelt encouraged Toombs to believe that his modest cottage “is the forerunner of vast architectural developments in the good old state of Georgia.” In 1928 additional cottages were under way, including one for his mother. This cottage (which Sara Roosevelt rented to others, as she disliked Warm Springs) was designed wholly by FDR and resembled several old servant cottages near Meriwether Inn. Toombs believed “the plan leaves a few things to be desired, but is thoughtful of a polio patient’s point of view… . He [FDR] was very proud of it, and on many occasions boasted that he was its architect with no help.” (17)

Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for the Southern Greek Revival cottage was so great that in 1927 he proposed one as a workman’s cottage (fig. 3) on the Hyde Park estate. he liked his own cottage’s plan so well that he made only one major change – removing the den in favor of a larger bedroom. However, the workman’s cottage apparently was not built, perhaps because FDR could not bring himself to plant a Georgia cottage on Dutchess County soil.

The cottages were only a part of Roosevelt’s scheme to transform Warm Springs into a treatment center for polio victims and a first-class resort for the able-bodied. Even before purchasing the property, he wrote a friend that “I am consulting architect and landscape engineer for the Warm Springs Co. – am giving free advice on the moving of buildings, the building of roads, setting out of trees and remodeling the hotel.” Toombs remembered joining FDR at Warm Springs in 1926. ” He was full of plans for its development. Our first job was to make the pools usable. He was in the midst of arrangements for a new water system, obligatory repairs to the wooden hotel … [and] promotion of a golf course… . [A] real estate development was projected. He was busy planning roads; laying out rights-of-way by driving himself in an old Ford through the woods.” (18)

Among the major construction projects, FDR gave priority to a covered pool and related facilities. In 1926 he drew a sketch (probably the sketch plan now in the Seymour Adelman collection) and gave instructions to “Study the University of Virginia buildings for architecture of the outside.” He specifically told Toombs to include “long porches on two sides of the building that patients might drive alongside and get out without help.” (19) While the pool as executed did not conform to FDR’s sketch plan, the porches with their white shafts do resemble Jefferson’s low colonnades facing the lawn of the University of Virginia.

Funds were given by Mr. and Mrs. Edsel Ford, and the new pool was dedicated in November 1928 with a water football game featuring Franklin Roosevelt. During the planning and construction of the pool, FDR struggled with formulating a comprehensive plan for Warm Springs. He was never quite certain what buildings the treatment center would require, and the resources and incentives to proceed with a great resort for the healthy never materialized. (20)

Toombs recalled that “Mr. Roosevelt was induced … to let us [Toombs and his sometime partner, Eric Gugler] prepare a plan for future development of the institution. The plan we prepared should dutifully make a bow to Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia. F.D.R. approved of its idea, and I think liked the thought of its having the University of Virginia as a prototype, but would not for years definitely commit himself to it.” A 1926 proposal (fig. 4) included a rectangular lawn whose long sides were to be flanked by cottages or pavilions a little reminiscent of the University (21) This same proposal suggested remodeling the Meriwether Inn with a classical portico and cupola. FDR considered the old Victorian inn ugly – ridiculously high and ungainly with absurd and pretentious wooden ornament. Equally or more important, it was a “firetrap,” and the crippled Roosevelt understandably feared fire. This 1926 proposal never came to fruition, nor did on of 1930 which FDR supported for a “hotel very attractive in appearance and built after the lines of Mount Vernon.” (22)

The polio victim and not the golfer became FDR’s principal concern, and in November 1927, with his own cottage successfully completed, he announced to Toombs that he was “trying one or two sketch plans” for a cottage to house polio patients. Four sheets of square-ruled paper (similar to the paper on which Jefferson made his more accomplished drawings) remain with FDR’s sketch plans for cottages – probably the plans of November 1927. (23) They range from small, one-bedroom structures with lounge and porch for two persons, to a larger building housing twelve, and finally to a sixty-by fifty-foot hall with kitchen, dining room, lounge, writing, and card rooms (fig. 5).

In 1929 Toombs and Arthur Carpenter, the manager of the Foundation, determined the site of the first patients’ residence, but they ran into trouble with Roosevelt who did not want some of his favorite trees disturbed. Instead of frankly stating his opinion, however, FDR altered the building design by adding staff apartments in the basement so that the residence could be better accommodated on another, sloping site. “With his characteristic adroitness he had found a means of gaining his view and making our position untenable without making a direct decision against our recommendations. We retired discomfited, but admiring.” (24)

In 1929 Toombs and Arthur Carpenter, the manager of the Foundation, determined the site of the first patients’ residence, but they ran into trouble with Roosevelt who did not want some of his favorite trees disturbed. Instead of frankly stating his opinion, however, FDR altered the building design by adding staff apartments in the basement so that the residence could be better accommodated on another, sloping site. “With his characteristic adroitness he had found a means of gaining his view and making our position untenable without making a direct decision against our recommendations. We retired discomfited, but admiring.” (24)

Construction of the first major building for patient use, the infirmary, came only after FDR took office as governor of New York in 1929, but his interest hardly slackened. (25) Surviving correspondence with Toombs makes no mention of the Greek Revival style of the porticoed exterior. Following FDR’s design of the first cottage and the pool porches, Toombs no doubt assumed that all future work at Warm Springs should follow classical lines as employed in the South in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Rather, FDR scrutinized the plan and budget with his practical eye: “I hope that you can surely keep the Infirmary cost down to $30,000, but I do not think that the fire proof construction should be eliminated. You can save money by not putting in the two rooms for colored patients in the basement or the basement kitchen, but I think the plumbing for them should run as far as the fixture connections and certainly the isolation room and bathroom should go in the basement.” As the building neared completion, the governor and his architect had another of their little disagreements. Toombs wanted to whitewash the infirmary’s brick walls, while FDR said the brick should be allowed to weather for several months before a decision was made. (26)

In 1931, the governor and presumed presidential candidate took steps to build a new home, less easily accessible by the public than his first cottage. FDR chose a wooded site on Pine Mountain that had attracted his interest on his first stay in Warm Springs. Toombs tried, unsuccessfully, to convince FDR that the site was a poor one, since it faced west, into the hot sun. (27) Roosevelt, however, believed in the curative power of sunlight.

Dubbed “the Little White House” by the press, the house (fig. 6) was not, as popularly supposed, intended as a miniature of the president’s house in Washington. In fact, like its predecessor, it was based on a local Greek Revival prototype, which Toombs identified as a house in nearby Greenville. Presumably FDR chose the source, and he did experiment with sketch plans, but his architect sought to advance his own ideas, while denying he was “trying to be an architectural dictator.” (28)

“Being impressed at having the governor of New York as a client,” Toombs wrote in his memoirs, “I went somewhat haywire in my sketches and introduced a modest reception room – octagonal… . The Governor objected strenuously to this exhibition of pretentiousness, and would have none of it.” The final plan is similar to the first cottage, although FDR was assured greater privacy by the insertion of a square entry or reception room between the front door and the living room. (Roosevelt customarily sat by the living room fireplace, when not sunning on the west porch.) Moreover, whereas the first cottage had a high front approached by a flight of steps, with the main floor level to the ground and accessible by wheelchair only at the rear, the Little White House was flush with the ground in front, while the rear had (in FDR’s words) “a porch as high as prow of a ship.” (29)

FDR’s love of local materials again found expression inside. The fireplace (fig. 7) was “built of stone picked up on the hillside and rather ineptly laid,” according to the architect who tried in vain to persuade his client to have it whitewashed. The contractor assured Toombs that FDR really liked “the field rock texture and rough cement mortar as they fit in with the exterior surroundings.” Roosevelt was also committed to “typical Southern woods,” at first considering tulip poplar, then reverting to wide pine boards. Toombs, disgruntled, thought the interior – “nothing but pine boards, walls and ceilings” – was too “austere … dark … not very cheerful.” In 1933 a guest house was built a short distance up the hill, and Toombs remembered with satisfaction that “I managed to slip in some plaster ceilings as contrast to wood walls, and got away with it… . [H]e was beginning to lead such a busy life that he had to give his architect a little rope.” (30)

The press reported that on his first visit to the “gleaming white” house in May 1932, “Governor Roosevelt ignored politics … and asserted that he was far more interested in his new home than in primary elections… . The Governor was beaming with pleasure at the way his plans for the cottage were carried out.” When talking to reporters, FDR sometimes neglected to give proper credit to his architects, but at least he wrote Toombs, “I can’t find words to tell you how delighted I am with it.” (31)

Campaigning for the presidency in 1932, FDR had little time to oversee the growth of Warm Springs. Its manager, Arthur Carpenter, complained to Toombs, “now that he has quit leading … I will be damned if I know where I am!” Yet at the same time Carpenter and Toombs apparently lived in fear of the whims of the New Yorker. Thus, “when plans for Georgia Hall (the first main building) were under construction, … we [Carpenter and Toombs] only showed Governor Roosevelt a simple single-line drawing, having agreed between ourselves that if we showed him the detail drawings he would surely be full of ideas and probably upset our plans, which was already far along. We had noted that when F.D.R. saw a drawing he always reached for a pencil.”

The drawing Roosevelt saw was indeed simple, but still it did not escape his criticism: “I do not like the part of the new building … which sticks out like a tongue into the campus. There should be no projection of that kind, though a recess or two recesses would be all right.” Probably he wanted the lawn to remain an uncluttered, uncut rectangle in the manner of the University of Virginia, but Toombs suggested that FDR was again moved by his love of trees: “his interest in trees definitely inhabited our planning. For this building was to sprawl over a hillside covered with trees. Never did architects do more juggling to miss trees. We save some, and our memories mercifully could not recall the ones he thought missing.” (32)

The tongue was cut out so that, in an address accepting Georgia Hall (fig. 8) as a gift to the Foundation from the people of Georgia, FDR could refer to it as “this beautiful building which for all time could be the centre of our work.” He confessed he felt “prouder than ever to call this my other home.” Georgia Hall, designed by Gugler and Toombs, became the focal point of a great court and colonnades based on the University of Virginia. It was the last Foundation building whose design was significantly influenced by the president, although he did offer suggestions for the plan of a proposed thirty-five bed hospital, and he was the central figure in dedicatory or opening ceremonies for several new structures. (33)

Throughout the planning of the treatment facilities, FDR knew what he did not want. In 1929 Basil O’Conner, FDR’s law partner and successor as head of the Foundation argued for a “first-class hospital,” but Roosevelt replied, “that word gives me the chills… . Nobody should go all the way to Warm Springs to be shut up inside a big white building.” Instead, he sought the more intimate and friendly atmosphere of cottages where the patients could be largely self-sufficient. Where a degree of monumentality was necessary, the visual impression should be of a university campus or resort hotel. Georgia Hall had “the pleasant appearance of a leisurely Southern home,” while it also suggested “the main building in a college quad” to a write for the New York Times in 1933. The Architectural Forum thought the “southern air initiated by the Jeffersonian Doric columns and classic pediments” eliminated “any atmosphere of hospital.” (34)

The famous European spas had only a limited influence of Roosevelt and his architects. Frances Perkins believed they “did not suit him. He knew they were for rich people. His plan was to keep the place simple and cheap, to make it possible for people to help themselves … and to make the scale of living more like a camp than a hotel.” As a boy, FDR had been taken for several extended visits to Bad Nauheim where his father underwent the water cure for his heart condition. In the 1920s and 1930s he sought the advice of German balneologists in the development of Warm Springs and New York’s Saratoga Springs, encouraging the architect of the Saratoga project to visit Bad Nauheim and other European spas. Like Bad Nauheim, Warm Springs joined classical architecture with the natural beauty of the landscape, but the German buildings were more monumental and their gardens were formal in the manner of an urban park. Roosevelt’s Warm Springs was distinctly American – relatively unpretentious and calling up memories of Jefferson and the antebellum South. (35)

What is the broader significance of these architectural adventures? Among other things, Warm Springs was one more outlet for FDR’s passion to build. Rexford Tugwell listed as one of FDR’s “most notable characteristics” that “he was a natural builder and arranger. He felt in himself a talent for design, and it is true that he had a flair for laying out and for managing… .” As assistant secretary of the navy, governor, and president, Roosevelt seized the opportunity to use his managerial talents on an enormous scale, while assuming responsibility for the detailed design of a few pet projects close to home. Tugwell thought the transformation of Warm Springs from a down-at-the-heels watering place to the foremost treatment center for infantile paralysis represented primarily a humanitarian effort by Roosevelt, but he also saw in it FDR’s “sheer builder’s instinct,” perhaps bound up with a desire to create monuments to his own glory. (36)

As noted at the outset, Roosevelt the builder identified himself with Jefferson. At Monticello in 1936 he called Jefferson a “builder” of the new new country and its government in his many roles: “Farmer, lawyer, mechanic, scientist, architect, philosopher, statesman, he encompassed the full scope of the knowledge of his time… .” FDR, who sometimes thought of himself not simply as a statesman, but also as a farmer, lawyer, architect, engineer, and doctor, admired Jefferson as a builder both in the general sense and in the narrower, specifically architectural, sense. (37)

FDR was from Hyde Park but also of Warm Springs. The southern Greek Revival buildings of the Foundation, and particularly the Little White House, stand as evidence of his adaptability. The New York aristocrat devoted to the fieldstone houses of his Dutch ancestors could, on his arrival in Warm Springs, transform himself into the Georgia aristocrat with an apparently genuine admiration for the state’s old Grecian houses and the manners that went with them. He could recommend Warm Springs as a place of “informality and truly languid southern atmosphere… .” As Paul Conkin notes, Roosevelt was an “outsider,” yet he “easily fit into the prevalent class patterns and did not disturb, and was probably not profoundly disturbed by, racial segregation. He was part of the recognized upper class, was always and correctly called Mr. Roosevelt… .” (38)

The “New Yorker who liked to think of himself as also a Georgian by adoption” attributed his affection for the land and people of Georgia to the qualities they shared with Dutchess County. In 1925 he chatted with his new neighbors through his column in The Macon Daily Telegraph: “Yesterday afternoon I went up to the top of Pine Mountain. There, stretching out for many miles to the horizon, was a large portion of Merriwether [sic] County. It was good looking country – and good to live in. In many ways it reminded me of the views I get from hilltops in my own Dutchess County …, and I might add that the people who live in it are very much the same type of American citizen as they are back home where I came from.” (39)

Was this affection disinterested? FDR dabbled in architecture, road building, medicine, forestry, farming – but he was primarily a politician. Rexford Tugwell suggested that he called Georgia his “second home” for political reasons; Frank Freidel comments that without southern support he would not have been nominated in 1932. (40) Henry Toombs (who privately considered Roosevelt “selfish and opinionated”) mused that his client “may have selected South[ern] Colonial because it [was] politic to do so.” (41) If FDR hoped to ingratiate himself with Georgians by espousing the regional historical style, he had some success in 1929 when the volume, Georgia Homes and Landmarks, published in Atlanta, suggested that FDR’s first cottage “portrays the elements of culture and sincerity that have made its owner an outstanding valued son of the nation.” (42)

Franklin Roosevelt believed in a usable past. In a 1925 review of Claude Bower’s Jefferson and Hamilton, he acknowledged that “The history of the United States may be interesting to some for the mere fact of events or personalities. But is is of value to us as a whole because of the application we make of these facts to present problems.” And later what he said of Jefferson could well describe himself: “He applied the culture of the past to the needs and the life of the America of his day.” FDR applies the historic style of Georgia to his cottages – and thereby announced his friendship with the South. But internally, while the plan, pine, and stone were indeed local, the austere character of the design gave no hint of the elegance of Greek Revival ornament or the gracious style of life of the antebellum aristocrat. Must of the furniture was made in the Val-Kill shop of Eleanor Roosevelt and imitated New England colonial patterns. For Toombs, the cottage interiors, essentially designed by his client, were clear evidence that he had “no critical appreciation of beauty,” but rather a “love of simple surroundings – a bright fire, always a cluttered room of books, papers, a few ship models, odds and ends, sometimes a curious but seldom a really fine thing… . The results were homelike, personal, unpretending, livable. They were never accomplished decor, but [he admitted] they were honest.” (43) When the Little White House was new, one reporter believed it (and especially the interior) was “in perfect keeping with the simple tastes and strong, rugged character of the famous executive.” (44)

The Warm Springs of December 1935 was, according to an irreverent writer for Time, nothing but “a jerkwater Georgia town,” momentarily in the limelight because the president of the United States was in resident. The president, of course, had another opinion. He was enormously proud of his Warm Springs Foundation and its “splendid progress” in expanding both physical facilities and medical care to serve ever increasing numbers of crippled children and adults. (45) FDR never tired of referring to the importance of “the spirit of Warm Springs” – a friendly, forever optimistic spirit which boosted the “confidence, self-reliance and cheerfulness” of the patients. He liked to recite the legend that “when the Indians came here to get cured of their wounds, they lived here, different tribes all together, as in a place of sanctuary where war was forbidden,” because even then “the spirit of Warm Springs” presided over the place. Roosevelt, as James MacGregor Burns had indicated, believed in the continuity of the past, the present, and the future. Thus FDR proposed that “the spirit of Warm Springs” had come down to us all the way from the Indians… . It has been here at least as long as I have been here, and I am quite sure it is still here and I am quite sure it will always rest upon these buildings.” Franklin Roosevelt meant to ensure that the spirit inherited from the Indians did not dissipate during his lifetime, and he expected that the buildings he erected in the historic style of the region would serve a role in its continuance far into the future. (46)


1 Rexford G. Tugwell, In Search of Roosevelt (Cambridge, 1972); Franklin D. Roosevelt to Mr. Davis, September 15, 1911, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York (hereafter cited as FDRL); William B. Rhoads, “Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture,” New York History 59 (October 1978), 430-64; William B. Rhoads, “Franklin D. Roosevelt and Washington Architecture,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, forthcoming.

2 Henry H. Saylor, “the A.I.A.’s First Hundred Years,” Journal of the American Institute of Architects (May 1957), 150; Henry Johnston Toombs, “Doing Architecture with F.D.R.,” undated typescript (ca. 1949), Henry Johnston Toombs Papers, Georgia Department of Archives and History (hereafter cited as Toombs Papers).

3 Archibald MacLeish, “He Cherished American Culture,” New Republic, April 15, 1946, p. 540; New York Times, March 23, 1937.

4 Rhoads, “Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture.”

5 Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (New York, 1960), discusses extensively FDR’s interest in and use of Jefferson’s life; FDR to San Delano Roosevelt, Autumn 1927, in Elliott Roosevelt, ed., F.D.R., His Personal Letters, 3 vols. (New York, 1947-1950), 2:629; FDR to Stuart G. Gibboney, April 7, 1925, FDR Family, Business and Personal Papers, FDRL; Rexford G. Tugwell, The Democratic Roosevelt (Garden City, 1957), 88, 142; FDR, Address at Monticello, Virginia, July 4, 1936, in Samuel I. Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 13 vols. (New York, 1938-1950), 5:241. FDR privately invoked Jefferson’s architectural career as a precedent to justify the controversial titling of drawings for his Hyde Park retreat, “Franklin D. Roosevelt Architect,” M.A. LeHand (quoting FDR) to Toombs, November 17, 1938, President’s Personal File (hereafter PPF) 119, FDRL.

6 FDR to James A. Farley, May 4, 1940, President’s Official File (hereafter OF) 400-Georgia; FDR to Smith W. Purdum, July 27, 1940, OF 400, FDRL; yellow slip attached to FDR to R. Foster, July 22, 1940, PPF 311, FDRL; Louis A. Simeon to FDR, September 23 and December 17, 19430, OF 400, FDRL; Press Conference, December 6, 1935, in Complete Presidential Press Conferences of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York, 1972), 6:326f. FDR took a special interest in the Pine Mountain Valley community of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, but apparently had little or no influence on the architectural plans of David Williams and O’Neil Ford beyond studying and approving them in 1934. Toombs designed and FDR broke ground for the community church. Paul K. Conklin, “It All Happened in Pine Mountain Valley,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 47 (1963), 5, 29.

7 FDR to Eleanor Roosevelt, July 29, 1913 and July 25, 1917, Personal Letters, 2:209, 352; FDR to Harold Smith, March 27, 1940, OF 6-P, FDRL.

8 Useful accounts of FDR in Warm Springs include Turnley Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story (New York, 1953); Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs (Chicago, 1977); Kenneth S. Davis, FDR The Beckoning of Destiny (New York, 1972), 761-811.

9 Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, October 26, 1924, reprinted by Donald Scott Carmichael, ed., F.D.R., Columnist (Chicago, 1947), 160-64.

10 Who’s Who in America, 1966-1967.

11 Rhoads, “Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture,” 436-38.

12 Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 32.

13 One indication of FDR’s amateur status as architect may be seen in fig. 1 where his plan indicates four casement windows opening onto the porch, while his elevation shows five – the more classical arrangement since it allows a void on the central axis and an even rhythm of columns and windows. The cottage was actually built with four casements. Toombs, in an undated memo to his partner Eric Gugler (Toombs Papers), complained that the cottage was “very badly done.”

14 Toombs, “Doing Architecture.” Toombs, of course, knew the Southern Greek Revival well, for his great-uncle, Robert Toombs, occupied a house with a giant Greek Doric portico in Washington, Georgia. Atlanta Constitution, October 20, 1935 (clipping in Toombs Papers).

15 Toombs, “Doing Architecture.” Val-Kill cottage had been designed previously with a living-dining room. Georgia: A Guide to Its Town and Countryside (Athens, 1940), 137f, describes a “dog-trot house” as two enclosed units joined by a “windy combination of porch, washhouse, kennel, woodshed, and general catch-all,” and “still fairly common in southwest Georgia.”

16 Toombs to FDR, June 6, 1926; FDR to Toombs, July 2 [1926], Toombs Papers; FDR to Sara Roosevelt, October 29, 1926 and February, 1927, Personal Letters, 2:618, 621; Frederick Doveton Nichols, The Architecture of Georgia (Savannah, 1976), 37.

17 Toombs, “Doing Architecture”; FDR to Toombs, December 9, 1926, Toombs Papers; FDR to Sara Roosevelt, March 17, 1928, Personal Letters, 2:633f; Toombs, “Doing Architecture.”

18 FDR to Livingston Davis, April 25, 1925, quoted by Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Ordeal (Boston, 1954), 195; Toombs, “Doing Architecture.”

19 Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 124; FDR to C.P. Hubbard, n.d., Seymour Adelman collection, Bryn Mawr College; Toombs, “Doing Architecture.”

20 New York Times, November 30, 1928; FDR to Toombs, January 24, 1928, Toombs Papers.

21 Toombs, “Doing Architecture.” Toombs studied the design of the University in the mid 1920s on a visit to Charlottesville in connection with a combination to design a house for his friend Dumas Malone, the Jefferson scholar. Malone to author, February 1, 1978.

22 Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 22, 73; Lippman, Squire of Warm Springs, 199; FDR to George Foster Peabody, May 9, 1930, FDRL.

23 Photos of Jefferson’s drawings were published by William Alexander Lambeth and Warren H. Manning, Thomas Jefferson As an Architect and a Designer of Landscapes (Boston, 1913) and Fiske Kimball, Thomas Jefferson, Architect (Boston, 1916).

24 Toombs, “Doing Architecture”; Toombs to Eric Gugler, October 8, 1929, Toombs Papers.

25 In 1929 FDR began to delegate some of his authority over Warm Springs to his law partner, Basil O’Connor. FDR to Toombs, august 5, 1929 and FDR to O’Conner, August 5, 1929, FDRL.

26 FDR to Toombs, July 2, 1929; Arthur Carpenter to Toombs, December 9, 1929, Toombs Papers.

27 Tape-recorded interview with Henry Toombs by Rexford Tugwell, 1957, FDRL.

28 Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 208; Toombs, “Doing Architecture”; Toombs to M.A. LeHand, March 26, 1932, FDRL. M.A. LeHand to Talmage C. Hughes, January 9, 1939, PPF 3481, FDRL, specifies that FDR drew the original floor plans and elevations for both Warm Springs cottages, and Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 199, indicates that he “made many sketches” in designing the second cottage, but only a rough sketch on the rear flyleaf of Scott’s Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, 1928, FDRL, can so far be identified with the project.

29 Toombs, “Doing Architecture”; Walker, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 199. Robert P. Post described the President’s routine at the Little White House (New York Times, March 21, 1937): “By far the greatest part of his day is spent before a pine fire… . White House burdens have killed more than one President… . The present occupant of the White House has no intention of sharing that fate, and his ability to relax and play will go far to aid him.” Eight years later President Roosevelt was struck with a massive cerebral hemorrhage while sitting by this fireplace.

30 Toombs, “Doing Architecture”; Toombs to J.W. Ewing, May 16, 1932; J.W. Ewing to Toombs, May 20, 1932; Toombs to Ewing, October 30, 1931; Ewing to Toombs, December 29, 1931, Toombs Papers. Toombs tried to get authorization to proceed with the small guest house without showing the plans to the president. FDR to Toombs, March 20, 1933, PPF 119, FDRL, told him to go ahead with construction {but for heaven’s sake send me a plan first.”

31 New York Times, May 2, 1932, Eric Gugler, “The White House: The Executive Office Building,” typescript dated July 1970 in Gugler Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.; FDR to Toombs, May 5, 1932, Personal Letters, 3:278. Eleanor Roosevelt did not like Warm Springs, but, as she wrote Toombs (May 7, 1932, Toombs Papers): “I cannot end this first day in the new cottage without telling you how lovely I think it is. You certainly did a swell job and nature has done the rest.”

32 Arthur Carpenter to Toombs, October 20, 1932, Toombs Papers; Toombs, “Doing Architecture”; FDR to Carpenter, March 28, 1933, President’s Secretary’s File 190, FDRL.

33 FDR, Address at the Dedication of Georgia Hall, November 24, 1933, Public Papers, 2:502-4; Eric Gugler, “Reminiscences of F.D.R.,” undated typescript (ca. 1963), Gugler Papers, Archives of American Art; New York Times, November 30, 1934, march 25 and 28, 1938, April 2, 1939.

34 FDR’s discussion with O’Connor reconstructed in Waler, Roosevelt and the Warm Springs Story, 183f; H.A. Littlefield, “Hope and Courage – That is Warm Springs,” New York Times Magazine, January 23, 1944, p. 9; New York Times, November 26, 1933; Architectural Forum 61 (November 1934), 335.

35 Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (New York, 1946), 36; Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Apprenticeship (Boston, 1952), 33; New York Times, February 23, 1938; letter of introduction for Joseph henry Freedlander signed by FDR, July 31, 1930, FDRL; photo album of Bad Nauheim given President Roosevelt by the spa “Zur Erinnerung an seine Jugendzeit in Bad-Nauheim” (in remembrance of his youthful days at Bad Nauheim), Album 237, FDRL.

36 Tugwell, Democratic Roosevelt, 88, 142.

37 FDR, Address at Monticello, Public Papers, 5:241.

38 FDR to Auntie Bye (Mrs. W. Sheffield Cowles), June 29, 1927, Personal letters, 2:624: Conklin, “Pine Mountain Valley,” 2. FDR made no provision for Negro patients to reside at the treatment center. Lippman, Squire of Warm Springs, 155, describes FDR’s “racism” as “benign paternalistic.”

39 Frank Feidel, F.D.R. and the South (Baton Rouge, 1965), 1; FDR in The Macon Daily Telegraph, April 18, 1925, reprinted in Carmichael, ed., F.D.R., Columnist, 31. It is not true, however, that Warm Springs was “as beloved as Hyde Park.” Davis, Beckoning of Destiny, 811. Hyde Park would remain closest to his heart because of family ties and tradition; see F. Kennon Moody, “F.D.R. and His Neighbors: A Study of the Relationship between Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Residents of Dutchess County,” (Ph.D. diss. State University of New York at Albany, 1981).

40 Tugwell, In Search of Roosevelt, 3; Freidel, F.D.R. and the South, 2, The South, including Meriwether County, supported FDR the candidate, but Dutchess County never did after sending him to the New York Stat Senate. Lippman, Squire of Warm Spring, 157.

41 Notes by Toombs for “Doing Architecture”; tape-recorded interview with Toombs by Tugwell. Toombs did admire Eleanor Roosevelt.

42 Annie Hornady Howard, ed., Georgia Homes and Landmarks (Atlanta, 1939), 117.

43 FDR, draft of review (published New York World, December 3, 1925), Family, Business and Personal Papers, Box 110, FDRL; FDR, Address at Monticello, July 4, 1936; Toombs, “Doing Architecture.” For Toombs, FDR committed the ultimate heresy when he complained that the White House interiors were “too big” and stated his preference for pine rooms. Compare Albert Speer’s condescending view of his patron’s taste as revealed before 1935 in the furnishes of Hitler’s small wooden house on Obersalzbert: “the furniture was bogus old-German peasant style and gave the house a comfortable petitbourgeois look.” Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (New York, 1970), 46.

44 Unidentified clipping from rotogravue section (Atlanta Journal?), scrapbook 14, Toombs Papers.

45 Time, December 9, 1935, p. 13; FDR, address at the dedication of Georgia Hall, Public Papers, 2:502.

46 FDR, Extemporaneous Remarks at Thanksgiving Day Party at Warm Springs, November 29, 1934, Public Papers, 3;485-86; James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York, 1956), 235.

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Figure 1. Plan and elevation of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first cottage at Warm Springs, drawn by FDR, 1926. Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Libr
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 2. Sitting or living room of FDR's first cottage. FDR with Basil O'Connor, November 1928. Photo: J.T. Holloway from FDR Library.
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 3. Plan and elevation of proposed workman's cottage, Hyde Park, drawn by FDR, August 1927. Photo: FDR Library.
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 4. Aerial view of proposed development of Warm Springs, Henry J. Toombs, Architect (drawn by Schell Lewis), 1926. Photo: FDR Library
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 5. Plan of proposed patient building, Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, drawn by FDR, 1927. Photo: FDR Library
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 6. The "Little White House," Henry J. Toombs, Architect, photo dated May 2, 1932. Photo: FDR Library.
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 7. Living room of the "Little White House." Photo: FDR Library.
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

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Figure 8. Georgia Hall, Gugler and Toombs, Architects (drawn by Schell Lewis), 1933. Photo: Georgia Department of Archives and History.
Source: This photograph appeared in William B. Rhoads, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.

William B. Rhoads, “Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture of Warm Springs,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXVII, No. 1, Spring 1983.