Category Archives: National Historic Sites

Plains, Georgia

Heading out of Alabama on Wednesday, November 1st, we set our sights on a place we’ve wanted to visit for a long time: Plains, Georgia. With our interest in exploring U.S. presidential hometowns and museums, this town has always piqued our curiosity. Plains is the birthplace and home of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter and is about as ‘small town America’ as they come. What is unique is that the entire town has been designated a national historic site. As with many of the other places we’ve seen on this particular trip, it is not located along either of the two normal routes that a Michigander would take to get to Florida. This go-around would afford us the opportunity to finally check Plains out.

Scoping the town out on Google Maps, we knew we would be able to pull our fifth wheel in behind the visitor center. Thinking this would be a quick stop…and given there weren’t any campgrounds showing up on any of our apps…we thought we would be on our way before nightfall. We did want to check out as much as we could in that time frame, as the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site keeps coming up as a possible place to volunteer on our searches for those types of jobs.

The visitor center is housed in the old Plains High School. Both Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Smith Carter graduated from here in the 1940’s.  When we mispronounced the First Lady’s name, the park ranger said “It’s pronounced ROSE-a-lynn, not Roz-a-lynn.  She will correct you, if you call her that”.  🙂

Inside, there is a recreated classroom and principal’s office. The rest of the buildings rooms are devoted to the president’s life.

Hey…I know her! She’s got MY vote!

During our visit we earned our Junior Ranger badges. While speaking with the volunteer working at the entrance, we discovered that there was a campground just up the road. We decided to head up there and set up for a few days, as we had several things in the area we wanted to see. As we pulled in, we saw this:

I remember that smiling peanut being on the news back in the 70’s! It’s still there, folks.

We also visited Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home. Located a few miles west of town, his parent’s farm spread out over 360 acres.

The simple frame house sits next to a road and a railroad. During the Great Depression, hobos would stop by and request food. When Miss Lillian asked one of them why so many stop by their house, he pointed out the symbols drawn on the mailbox post that indicated it was a safe house to visit.

She instructed her children to keep the symbols as they were.

The farm featured a windmill that was purchased for $100 in 1935. This brought indoor plumbing into the home…

…but note the shower head; a simple bucket with holes punched in the bottom.

Miss Lillian not only kept the household running while her husband farmed, she was also a nurse at the hospital in town. In fact, Jimmy was born there, the first president ever to have been delivered in a hospital. If she was working when the children would return home from school, they would stop at this desk to see the instructions she had left them. The kids nicknamed this desk ‘mother’, as a result. It was also interesting to see how much she had the children read, including at the dinner table.

Between the home and Plains, we came across Lebanon Cemetery.

In it, we found the Carter family plot, with not only Jimmy’s parents….

…but also, Jimmy’s brother Billy, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1988. He was a colorful character who liked to drink beer. He owned the local Phillips 66 gas station in Plains, a place the press liked to hang out when his brother was running for president. On slow news days, people like Dan Rather, Ed Bradley and Tom Brokaw could be found here looking for a story.

The station looks pretty much like it did in the 70’s on the outside. When it was suggested that businesses spruce up their store fronts, Billy proclaimed that he’d shoot anyone who as much as laid a paint brush on his place. Unfortunately, the museum to him inside is modern and lacking character. There is a fair amount of memorabilia though…

…including cans of his famous Billy Beer. I’ve drank a few cans of this back in my younger days. 😊

Across the street from Billy’s station sits Plains’ main business district.

The row contains several gift shops and a restaurant that Jimmy and Rosalynn still frequent. They live just up the street.

Immediately east of the business district is the local elevator. That farm wagon behind the tractor is loaded with peanuts. We saw load upon load being brought to market while we were there. I’m am not a fan of peanuts, but Diana purchased some in one of the shops in town and reported them to be delicious!

On the west end of the business district is Jimmy Carter’s campaign headquarters.  The train depot was chosen, because it was the only vacant building in town that contained a bathroom.

Since his presidency, Jimmy and Rosalynn have remained active throughout the world.  One of the organizations they work with is Habitat for Humanity.

Even in their 90’s they can still be found on job-sites, working right alongside the rest of the crew.  When we were shopping in neighboring Americus, Georgia, we discovered that the organization is headquartered there.  One block over from their offices is their Global Village, which we visited.

After viewing a short movie, we toured the collection of buildings.  The first part depicts many of the slums that are found throughout the world.  Once through that section, Habitat shows the types of houses they construct, which vary from country to country.

None of them are extravagant, by any means, but all are functional.

This one, from Papau, New Guinea, was built by a group called RV Care-A-Vanners, which is part of Habitat for Humanity.  We found that interesting, so we may check them out in the future.

While Mr. Carter was president, you may recall that he had solar panels installed on the White House.  For a long time, there were tax credits for solar, as a result of his initiatives to explore clean energy solutions. Earlier this year in Plains, a 10 acre solar farm was opened on one of his soybean fields.

It provides enough energy to power most of the homes in Plains, which can be seen in the background.  He leases the land to SolAmerica, which earns him about $7,000 a year.

When we found out the Jimmy Carter was going to be teaching Sunday School at his church that week, we extended our stay so we could listen to him speak.  Its quite a process to attend (including Secret Service screening), requiring that we arrive at 6:00 AM and not getting out until 1 PM.  On Friday morning, we received a call with good news that had us scrap those plans, and pack up and hit the road.  Stay tuned to find out what it was that put us on the move so quickly in our next installment of exploRVistas.com!


Get a copy of Jimmy Carter’s Memoir “A Full Life” on our exploRVistas Amazon link HERE.


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Tuskegee, Alabama

Our last stop before heading into Georgia on our way south was Tuskegee, Alabama.  We arrived in neighboring Auburn on October 30 for a two night stay, and visited Tuskegee on the 31st.  We had wanted to check out two sites administered by the National Park Service: Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site and Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Moton Field was used for primary flight training in World War II for African-American pilots.  Located a few miles north of Tuskegee, it was part of what was deemed a politically-motivated military experiment to see if African-Americans were capable of maintaining and operating fighter planes.  President Franklin Roosevelt, the NAACP and the black press pushed the Army Air Corps in the early 1940’s to allow African-Americans to fly, as they had been barred from doing so prior to that.  Blacks were considered at that time to be lazy and intellectually unable to serve in the Air Corps, and there was actually an Army doctrine in place from the 1920’s keeping them out of the air.  Of course, those who served in the squadron worked hard to prove that doctrine wrong.

When Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit in early 1941, she asked ‘Chief’ Anderson, the head flight instructor at the institute, if Negroes could fly airplanes.  He replied that they most certainly could, and offered the First Lady a ride, which she accepted.  As she exited the airplane after her half hour flight, she famously said “I guess Negroes can fly.”  Her visit helped solidify the programs legitimacy and move it forward.

Cadets did their bookwork at neighboring Tuskegee Institute and their initial flight instruction at Moton Field.  Advanced training took place at Kennedy Airfield in Tuskegee, which no longer exists.  The plane pictured above is a BT-13 Stearman, the same type of plane my father flew at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama….barely over 40 miles to the west.  

The pilots eventually flew P-51 Mustangs, considered to be one of the best planes in the U.S. arsenal.  The squadron took it upon themselves to paint the tails of their planes red to make themselves stand out.  They were proud to be flying, and they wanted other pilots to know it.  Their primary mission was to provide bomber support over Nazi Germany.  They posted a distinguished record while serving their country.

It is important to note that when we hear the name Tuskegee Airmen, the title encompasses everyone involved in the squadron…from the pilots themselves to the cooks and waitresses in the canteen.  These people fought not one, but two wars; the battle against Germany and the fight for racial equality.  Disembarking the ships that carried them home from war, they were immediately segregated into separate areas.  It would not be until 1948 that the military was desegregated by law.  

Even then, it was not until 2007 that the Tuskegee Airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

After visiting Moton Field, we continued on to Tuskegee University.  This school of higher learning was established in 1881 by Dr. Booker T. Washington as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers.  It eventually became Tuskegee Institute, then later became a university.

One thing the school is known for are its’ student-constructed buildings.  Even the bricks were made by the undergraduates.  One such building is the George Washington Carver Museum.

Dr. Washington hired George Washington Carver as a professor during his tenure.  The famed botanist worked at the institute for 47 years.  During that time, he championed rotating crops of sweet potatoes, soybeans and peanuts as an alternative to growing cotton, as the latter was stripping the South’s soil of its nutrients.  Though many inventions can be credited to him, he was more interested in helping his fellow man than applying for patents.  Still, his work is highly regarded, and the museum at Tuskegee was a fitting tribute to his efforts.

Our trip to Tuskegee was an eye-opener for me, personally.  Rising from slavery to become pilots and professors, the African-American people of this community have had to overcome obstacles this white male has never had to face.  Having grown up in the racially segregated Detroit metro area, I was often confused as to why people didn’t treat each other as equals.  In today’s political climate, it seems we are going backwards from the gains made since that era.  On this Veteran’s Day in 2017, we need to remember and respect each other’s contributions to our common goal, and acknowledge when those being slighted cry out for change.  Because, at the end of the day, we all bleed the same color blood.