Plains, Georgia: Boyhood Home of President Jimmy Carter


At first, the thought of visiting the boyhood home of a former president didn’t seem very exciting to me.  But, while on my way back to Florida, I found myself in Jimmy Carter’s old neighborhood of Plains, Georgia — a tiny farming town so small and out-of-the-way, there was a good chance I’d never be there again.  It just didn’t seem right to drive by the old Carter homestead without at least stopping to snap a few pictures. That’s all I thought I would do, because after all, visiting a president’s boyhood home didn’t seem very exciting.

I ended up spending nearly an hour there — and it turned into one of the most rewarding stops of my trip.

President Carter moved into this simple middle-class farmhouse in 1928, when he was four years old.  He was actually the first one inside: since his father had forgotten the keys to the new home, young Jimmy had to crawl through the window.  The family never locked the doors again.

The Carter Home stands along Old US 280 and the railroad tracks, at a train stop called Archery (about three miles from Plains, Georgia).  17 acres of the Carters’ original 360 acres are now owned by the National Park Service.  Visitors park in the back — but the tour begins with a walk inside the home.

As I mentioned, my plan was to walk around quickly, take a few pictures, and get back on the road for my very long drive home.  As I approached the house, I walked up to a tour group of about four people that had just formed.  It would have been rude to walk past them, so I joined the group, while fretting about the time I was wasting.

The park tour guide took us through the back door, and into the Carter home.  He didn’t just give us a tour, he painted a picture of what it was like for our 39th president to grow up here.  In this picture, he’s standing in the former bedroom of “Mr. Jimmy” — as the locals humbly call the former President.  The room looks much the same as it would have in the 1920’s and 30’s, with very few toys, and almost no decorations — but lots of books.

In the dining room, the dinner table is still set for the Carter family.

The Carter home didn’t have running water at first, but a bathroom was eventually added.  Check out the shower: that’s a bucket hanging overhead, with holes drilled in the bottom to create a showerhead!

The Carter Boyhood Home was purchased by the Downer family in 1949.  The Downers still own most of the property, except for the 17 acres they sold to the government in 1994.  The NPS “turned back the clock”, returning it to the days before electricity was installed.

The family farm has one unexpected amenity: a clay tennis court.  Carter played on this court as a boy, and carried his love of tennis all the way to Washington.

The “facilities” — the ones used before running water arrived — are out back.

A distant relative of a presidential pet, perhaps?

Next to the house, and just past the tennis court, there’s a small general store that was owned by Mr. Jimmy’s father, Earl.  Often, young Jimmy himself would be the one ringing up customers.  The store would extend credit, which made it popular with local farm workers.

Outside the store, there’s an antique gas pump.  Model T’s would rattle up, then the drivers would pump gas into the glass globe at the top, and let it drain down into their tanks.

Like many of the buildings and items on the Carter farm, that windmill was ordered from the Sears Roebuck Catalog.  It still pumps water.

In addition to the hundreds of acres of peanuts, cotton, and other crops that grew on the Carter farm, the family planted a vegetable garden near the house.  Be sure to ask your tour guide why tomatoes were forbidden here.

Strutting around between the barn and blacksmith shop, there’s a peacock or two.

One other house on the Carters’ property is also preserved.  This was the home of Jack and Rachel Clark, black sharecroppers who worked on the Carter farm, and were paid a salary — in addition to being provided a place to live.

Obviously, the Clark house is a lot less luxurious than Mr. Jimmy’s boyhood home.

The tour of the Carter farm ended here.  I had a chance to ask the tour guide if he had ever met President Carter, and he told me he had visited the farm within the past two months.  He also told me to look for Mr. Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalynn’s home as I drove into Plains.  Yes, they still live right here, in this small Georgia town.

So, after spending an hour on the tour of Carter’s boyhood home, I headed into town.

The farm isn’t the only time-capsule nearby.  Downtown Plains, Georgia gives you the feeling that Mr. Jimmy was just elected.  A huge sign over one of the downtown storefronts looks like an old-time campaign banner, proclaiming this to be the home of the President.

I went in the store that’s underneath that banner. Most of the items inside are somehow related to President Carter and/or peanuts.  Many of the shelves are filled with t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other souvenirs that, I’m quite sure, have also been there since the mid-70’s. Everything is cheap, so be sure you walk away with a scoop of peanut butter ice cream and a t-shirt that proclaims, “Went Nuts In Plains, Georgia!”

The Carter Boyhood Farm is just one of the properties preserved by the National Park Service in Plains.  You can also stop by the Visitor Center in Plains High School, and the Campaign Headquarters in the Plains Train Depot.  The NPS has all the info.

Jimmy Carter’s hometown was officially the last stop on my trip.  For the next six hours, I drove south, nearly non-stop, while the dash-cam rolled.  Here’s a time-lapse of the drive from Plains, Georgia to Interstate 75…

… and from Interstate 75 (exit 101) to the Florida state line…

… and from the Florida line south, until the sunlight ran out:

Once I was back home, I checked the odometer:

That’s 3,379.9 miles in nine days.  Not bad — especially for my old Hyundai Santa Fe, which was pushing close to 100,000 miles.

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