The Natural Georgia Series: The Flint River

Design by Lenz Design, Decatur, Georgia.

Presidents Shaped by the Flint River

By Sherri M.L. Smith

Andrew Jackson was not the only American president who was influenced by and influenced the Flint and Chattahoochee river valleys. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter also have unique ties to southwestern Georgia. Witnessing the struggle of this area during the 1920s and '30s, Roosevelt was inspired to formulate his New Deal policies that brought the country out of its greatest depression. Carter, who grew up loving this land, was enlightened enough to see the harm in harnessing the wild river that ran through it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

A little more than 100 years after Andrew Jackson stepped foot in Georgia, Franklin D. Roosevelt did as well. A wealthy aristocrat and nationally known Democratic political leader at the time, he was looking for a way to fight the polio that was crippling his body. He sought relief at the warm springs in Meriwether County. Between therapeutic sessions in the warm springs pool, Roosevelt would fish the waters of the Flint River, drive the countryside between Manchester, Greenville, and Gray, visit the Cove for bootlegged whiskey and fiddle playing, and spend hours on Dowdell's Knob just thinking as he looked out over the great river valley below him. He would see an impoverished land where people lived as sharecroppers on unmechanized farms, where planting, harvesting, and maintenance were done with the aid of mules and black field hands, who worked for a dollar and a half a day. The roads were unpaved, radio reception was poor and staticky, electricity was available on a very erratic basis, and most farms had no electrical appliances.

Those years were years when the country would be plunged into the greatest depression it had ever known and then into the greatest world war ever known. During those years, Roosevelt bought farmland and woodland in Harris and Meriwether counties to demonstrate to other farmers that farming could be profitable-that they could grow something other than cotton. Roosevelt experimented with cattle and goat raising, timbering, peach and apple orchards, various vegetables, and grapes. During those years, Roosevelt served an unprecedented three terms as president of the United States, and many of the New Deal policies that he formulated to lead the country out of the Depression and financial ruin stemmed from what he saw and learned from the rural people that touched his life in Warm Springs.

Jimmy Carter

In 1924, the same year that Franklin D. Roosevelt first visited Warm Springs, Jimmy Carter was born in Plains, Georgia. Carter grew up during the Great Depression on his family's 360-acre farm just west of Plains. Carter's family implemented some of the practices President Roosevelt was espousing concerning farming. They shifted away from growing cotton, and turned to peanuts, cattle and sheep, geese, wheat, oats, rye, and some sugar cane. Life was hard on the unmechanized farm. As a boy, Carter and his family plowed, cultivated, and harvested the fields with only the help of mules. FDR's Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to the area and the Carter farm in 1938, when Carter was 14.

Carter learned an appreciation for protecting the world that had been given to him. He said the stewardship of nature-of preserving the quality of the land, the beauty of the woodlands, and the abundance of wildlife-was immediately and dramatically tied in with his belief in God. As governor of Georgia he demonstrated those beliefs when he vetoed the building of a dam at Sprewell Bluff on the Flint River. As president, he continued to fight the unnecessary building of dams on rivers across the United States.

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