City Spotlight: Plains, GA

By Audrey W. | Arcadia Staff
While Plains, Georgia may be most well-known as the hometown of the 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter, it also has a prosperous history that transformed it into one of the most influential small towns in the South. Throughout the early 1900s, it was an economic leader in Georgia, but has today settled into sleepy southern town. With many tourist attractions, including the childhood property of President Carter, and a curious roadside statue, there is much to explore. We’re delving into the events that gave Plains the lasting legacy it owns today.

 A Small Town’s Rapid Growth

 Plains is located about two and a half hours south of Atlanta by car, and today has a population of just under 700 people. In the 1840s, there were three small settlements in the area: Plains of Dura, Magnolia Springs, and Lebanon. Newly-constructed railroads threaded across Georgia, inviting people from across the state and beyond into Plains. Cotton farming was a thriving industry in the area, and this enticed many people to settle down to try to make a profit. In the late 1800s, a group of businessmen asked that Plains of Dura be shortened to Plains for ease of speech. Their request was granted, and in 1896, Plains, Georgia was established.
Dr. B.T. Wise was the first mayor of Plains. He was joined by three other men to form the town’s first city council. The man who donated the land that would grow into Plains was H.L. Hudson. He was the first settler, first postmaster, first railroad agent, and fathered the town’s first child. Beginning with these few individuals, Plains grew rapidly into the 20th century, with the majority of their profit emerging from cotton harvesting. In the 1920s, townspeople built a school that was quickly regarded as one of the best in the state, thanks to Miss Julie L. Coleman. Widely known for her grace and dedication, Miss Coleman was in the classroom for 50 years, and taught almost everyone in Plains. During those same years, the Wise Sanitarium was built. It was staffed by some of the state’s leading medical professionals, and became one of the most renowned hospitals in the South. 

Former President Jimmy Carter has been a lifelong resident of Plains.
Like many small towns in the country, the people of Plains suffered greatly during the Great Depression. Most of the wealth yielded by cotton vanished, and decent jobs proved difficult to find – the economic boom that Plains experienced in the early 1900s officially came to a halt. As the nation began pulling itself from the Depression, Plains settled into the routine of a small, quiet southern town. Life here remained this way until the 1976 Presidential election, when Plains native Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. Over the course of the election, Plains experienced an increase in tourism, and nearly ten thousand people came to visit the community daily to see the hometown of Jimmy Carter during his Presidency. This was beginning of tourism in Plains.

Plains Today

 While tourist traffic in the town has decreased, there are still a substantial number of people who make the trek to the hometown of the county’s 39th president. Visitors are welcome to visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, which contains his boyhood farm, school, and the railroad depot that was his campaign headquarters in 1976. The Maranatha Baptist Church and Plains School and the Jimmy Carter Peanut of Plains Statue are also popular attractions.
From a Georgia boomtown to the quiet small town it is today, Plains is a quintessential example of small town America. Despite its size, Plains was one of the most influential towns in Georgia through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, it offers visitors a unique destination to experience a slice of American history.