Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States and he just happened to be from our home state of Georgia. President Carter rose from simple beginnings in the small, South Georgia town of Plains. Our family is always looking for an excuse to get out and explore so we thought we’d look into it.
Ride the Sam Shortline Train!
On our drive to go camping at Kolomoki Mounds State Park, we added a visit to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and Boyhood Home. To get there we rode the Sam Shortline Train from Cordele, Georgia to Plains. The SAM Shortline Train is operated by the Georgia State Parks, who do a wonderful job making the trip a fun family experience.
Full disclosure. We were given tickets to the train by a friend, and as such we did not pay to ride. It is a great experience but it is not the cheapest thing we have ever recommended. With that said, I think your money would be well spent. The unique travel, the money saved on gas and not having to endure a car ride were all positives.The train does have a snack car that serves hot dogs, candy bars, chips, ice cream, nachos, and more. You ride a rail bridge across Lake Blackshear. It is quite the experience.
President Jimmy Carter is our only Georgia born president, and a respectable man. We learned more about the former President and how his young life was shaped by this small town in the Georgia countryside. President Carter still lives in Plains after all these years! What a commitment to your roots! What a very humble man he is. Plains is where President Carter staged his presidential campaign in the 70’s. There are several shops along the store fronts in Plains and they are within an easy walk of the train. There is a layover of an hour and a half for the train. These shops cater to the tourists like us, coming to experience the historic site. One shop we visited specialized in political merchandise. The kids bought a ruler. Some of the memorabilia was pretty neat. Another shop sold Peanut Butter Ice Cream, which was delicious! Many other treats and souvenirs were available.
Plains High School Visitor Center and Museum
The high school that President Carter attended is now used as the National Park Service’s visitor center for the site and his boyhood home. It is within easy walking of the train depot, directly across the tracks from the store fronts. The visitor center still looks like an old school but does have many unique displays featuring the President’s career in politics before becoming president, his Nobel Prize, and a replica of his desk. The kids completed the Junior Ranger activity and were awarded with their Junior Ranger badges. Dad bought a book.
From Plains, the SAM Shortline Train moves down the tracks to the next stop in Archery, Georgia. Here you arrive at the countryside farm that President Carter grew up on. You can see a working windmill water pump, the simple home his family lived in, and the old country store his father operated. You really can find a sense of what simplicity and values President Carter started with and what he forged himself to become. I loved that my children could see how a person can grow from humble beginnings.
Once this layover is complete, the train simply is pulled back along the way you came, allowing for a restful ride back towards the depot at Georgia Veterans State Park. Georgia Veteran’s State Park is a great place to camp and explore. There are several military vehicles on display at the park and worth at least a brief look. The kids were less than enthused but we made an effort.
Things to know
- The SAM Shortline Railroad is operated by the Georgia State Parks. They operated the train on a regular basis but offer several different trips and schedules. Check here for scheduling and prices.
- Georgia Veterans State Park is where we hopped on board the train. This state park is a resort with a huge lake, a hotel, a golf course and campsites.
- Cordele is very easily accesible from Interstate 75 in South Georgia and would make a fine day trip from anywhere in Georgia.
- Plains, Georgia and the surrounding communities is an agricultural area that grows peanuts and cotton. This why all the shops sell peanut snacks, peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter fudge, and well, you get the idea.
- All the museums that we mentioned close by 5 p.m.
- You can access all these destinations by car. It would make for a great road trip. There was plenty of parking at every stop.
- Try the peanut butter ice cream in downtown Plains!
- The SAM Shortline Train features several special events seasonally such as Thomas The Train and The Polar Express. Be sure to check plan your dates to coincide.
- Camp at nearby Kolomoki Mounds State Park like us! Highly recommended.
- There are several Georgia State Parks to camp at in Southeast Georgia if you want more excellent choices.