Byline: Maggie FitzRoy
The historic warm spring pools were larger than I'd imagined.
The Little White House, where President Franklin Roosevelt vacationed and died, was smaller.
The rural town in west central Georgia where Roosevelt came to find a cure for polio was quainter.
Warm Springs, about a 5 1/2-hour drive from the Beaches, makes for an interesting, educational and fun weekend trip.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt's first year in office, so after reading several books about our country's longest-serving president, I decided to drive to Warm Springs to see if I could still find his spirit and legacy in the town he loved, and visited, 41 times.
My 14-year-old daughter Caylie and I drove there Labor Day weekend because once a year, on that weekend, the pools are filled with water from the warm springs for which the town is named, during an event called "A Dip Into the Past."
Roosevelt swam in the pools as therapy for polio, which weakened his legs at age 39 in 1921. He found the spring water so therapeutic that he built the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation around them to help other polio patients.
The institute still exists, but the pools were replaced with more modern ones in 1942.
The historic ones are normally kept empty, and open to the public for touring all through the year, as is the small white cottage at Roosevelt's Little White House State Historic Site.
Our 90-minute swim, for which we made advance reservations, was amazing.
The three connected pools were filled with pale blue 88-degree mineral-filled water that bubbles up from 3,500 feet underground.
We paddled around and chatted with fellow history-loving bathers.
"You'll sleep like a baby tonight," site manager Kim Cushman said.
"It's the magnesium, that's what it is."
But I would recommend a visit to Warm Springs any time of year.
Museum guide Suzanne Pike is always working there at the pool museum, and she knew Roosevelt.
She arrived as the first non-polio patient at the age of 2 months in January 1932 to be treated for severe club feet by Roosevelt's surgeons.
And she remembers well the day he died, April 12, 1945.
"We were in the theater, practicing for a play, when they told us the president had passed," Pike told me. "It was quite a shock. He looked real bad, but we didn't realize how sick he was."
Roosevelt's presence is still everywhere in Warm Springs, and during the drive there you can get an idea of why he visited so often.
Once we turned off northbound Interstate 75, we headed west on roads that were mostly empty, up-and-down hilly and fun to drive.
Warm Springs sits on the edge of Pine Mountain, and it has the feel of a mountain town, with a small, picturesque shopping area that caters to tourists.
We stayed at the Best Western White House Inn, a short drive from downtown shopping, a few restaurants, and the Little White House and its adjacent museum, which is about a mile from the pools and the small museum there.
Legend has it that American Indians of the Creek Confederacy brought wounded warriors to the springs long before white men ever set foot in the area, according to information from the pool exhibit.
During the 19th century, a small town called Bullochville grew up around the springs, which were channeled into pools to attract wealthy Victorian tourists who came by train. …