State needs new strategy for Warm Springs
Senoia writer F. Martin Harmon spoke at the Carnegie on Tuesday.
The author of “The Warm Springs Story” spoke about “the immense potential of Warm Springs.” He also said, “I hope the governor and a few other people will read my book.”
We hope so, too. “The Warm Springs Story” is a great read, full of historical vignettes. The book tells the story of the community, the springs, the president who brought them to international prominence – and what Warm Springs should be but is not.
Warm Springs is in Meriwether County, just one county away. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was heading regularly from the White House to his Little White House retreat, he often got off the train in Newnan and traveled by car through the countryside.
Roosevelt had polio and went to Warm Springs hoping for healing. He never was able to walk or stand unaided, but he did start a rehabilitation program that continues today as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.
When FDR died at Warm Springs in 1945, the Warm Springs world became bifurcated. In Roosevelt’s day, a road ran through the institute property to the Little White House. The fear of polio caused that connection to be blocked. The Little White House became a tourist attraction, accessed off Highway 85 as Pine Mountain rose on the town’s south side. The rehabilitation area was separated into its own sphere.
Polio has long since been conquered, but the two parts of Warm Springs continue their – now unnecessary, even foolish – separation. The institute has been governed by a succession of state agencies over the years. Some visitors still find their way to the institute where there are buildings built in Roosevelt’s day, including a house in which he lived before building the Little White House.
Downtown Warm Springs has experienced an economic renaissance in recent years, but the town still does not have the powerful regional impact it could have with a more comprehensive management of the state’s assets.
We hope Gov. Nathan Deal and key legislators will read Harmon’s book. The state owns the tourism and rehab properties in Warm Springs. The state should create a board with full authority to oversee operations of both, to connect them for tourism and economic development and to bring people to Warm Springs. At the same time, this would create even greater incentive to keep the medical facilities top-notch.
To see the house where a president lived and died is a fine thing, and something long offered at Warm Springs. To see his home, the rehabilitation center he envisioned and created and to dip one’s foot into the warm waters that brought him there – that’s a unique experience. That experience could lead to many things – a spa, better hotel accommodations and restaurants.
That would be economic development not just for Warm Springs and Meriwether County but for Coweta County and Columbus/Muscogee County and all the areas leading to Roosevelt’s retreat.
“The significance of the place has never been taken advantage of, like it could have,” Harmon said in a recent interview. In his book, Harmon suggested one “has to wonder why the state has never taken better advantage of Warm Springs – one of its best stories never properly told.”
We hope it is a story “never properly told” yet. The state needs to take the steps to create an entity that can tell that story and bring an economic boost to our entire region.