Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dec 10 - FDR and Warm Springs, Part 2

After our visit to the Little White House we drove down the hill a mile or so to the town of Warm Springs. Taking a left at the light (the only traffic light in town) and about another half mile further is the main entrance to the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.

It was here that FDR first came in 1924, seeking a cure for his paralysis. The warm springs for which the place is named flow out of the ground here at a steady temperature of 88f degrees... all 900 gallons per minute of it. That's certainly not hot, but it all worked out for the best as the name "Hot Springs" was already taken. More than the temperature, it was the curative powers of the minerals in the water that were thought by some to be beneficial.

In the late 1800s prosperous folks from the large cities of the southeastern U.S. came to Warm Springs to relax and find relief from the summer heat. But during the early 1900s other newer resort venues were drawing these customers elsewhere and caused a decline in the number of visitors.  With fewer guests, the place began to deteriorate. In 1926 FDR bought it all... the hotel, the springs and pools, and 1700 acres of surrounding Georgia forest. He developed a plan to shift it's focus from a resort destination to a polio treatment center -- the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. For the next 30 years tens of thousands of people, most of them children, came here to learn to live with the effects of this crippling disease.

We learned that what set this facility apart from the others that were performing the same task around the country was "The Spirit of Warm Springs".  From the beginning FDR didn't want this place to feel like a hospital. He wanted a positive and optimistic environment with a focus on both physical and mental rehabilitation. The buildings were designed to feel more like a college campus than a hospital... modeled after the University of Virginia. Treatment focused on learning to be independent and confident.

With the introduction of a vaccine for polio in the mid-1950s, and the quick decline in new cases, the Foundation shifted it's focus to rehabilitation from all types of disabilities. In 1964 the ownership of the place was transferred to the State of Georgia where it remains today.

What we found today was a large campus that includes two hospitals, housing for residents, and facilities for both medical and vocational rehabilitation. Employing more than 500 people, the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation is continuing the fine legacy created by FDR.

Just a short distance away are the historic Warm Springs Pools -- no longer in daily use but preserved as part of the State Park. With only a half hour to visit before they closed for the day we did a quick pass through the museum and saw the pools that FDR enjoyed so much during his visits here.