I was finally able to visit two spots that have been on my “wish list” for years. A triangular trip took us to both Campobello Island and Warm Spring, Georgia–two of FDR’s favorite locations.
The summer cabin at Campobello (just off the coast of Maine but actually on Canadian soil) was his summer retreat from age one until he was 39 years old. This is where the insidious polio virus first exhibited itself even though he probably contracted the virus several weeks before at a New York Boy Scout camp he had visited. He did journey to Campobello several times after polio struck in 1921 but his “Beloved Island” was where the young FDR gained his appreciation of nature as well as learning about life and hard work from the local fishermen he befriended. It is a beautiful cottage (if a cottage can have 34 rooms and servants) that is maintained by a combined U.S./Canadian commission.
The second half of our pilgrimage took us to Warm Springs, Georgia, about 75 miles south of Atlanta. It was here that FDR traveled to in 1924 seeking a cure for his polio. The natural warm springs pools there did not cure his polio but they did bring him comfort and peace. In fact, he fell in love with the nearby Pine Mountain and would travel to the area any time his schedule would allow during his New York governship and his presidency. He used two-thirds of his personal savings and purchased a run-down resort and turned it into a center for polio convalescence. Then he created the Warm Springs Foundation and turned over the property to the Foundation. It remains today as a center for treating post-polio symptoms, spinal cord injuries, strokes, and other disabilities.
It was during his visits to Warm Springs that FDR would ride through the countryside and stop to chat with the farmers, mostly sharecroppers scraping to make a living. He listened and learned from them. Those conversations inspired New Deal programs such as the Rural Electrification Authority that brought affordable electricity to remote areas.
In 1932 he designed and had a small, six room cottage built. It was dubbed The Little White House and he loved to go there and relax. But he also invited friends, staff and dignitaries and had working vacations. It was at The Little White House, where on April 12, 1945 while a portrait of him was being painted, that FDR suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. The cottage has been left much as it was on that sad day.
He also loved to drive about 8 miles up the mountain to a location known as Dowdell’s Knob. The spot affords an amazing panoramic view of the Georgia timberland below. It is extremely quiet, serene and beautiful. Just two days before his death the President went to The Knob and asked his Secret Servicemen to leave him alone for a visit. Today a bronze figure of a seated FDR looking out at the view and the barbecue grill he had built can be found. I went to the Knob twice on my trip and found the peace that he must have found whenever he went there and especially on that last visit. I could almost sense his presence. It was a very emotional end to an amazing pilgrimage. I shall cherish this and keep it deep within me as I present my homage to this great man in the future.