Havens | Pine Mountain, Ga.
A Retreat for Roosevelt and More Recent Arrivals
By JOE SAMUEL STARNES
HE came for the water but fell in love with the land. Franklin Delano Roosevelt first traveled to the piney woods of western Georgia in 1924, seeking to treat his polio with the curative powers of the mineral-rich springs at the Meriwether Inn at Warm Springs.
Two years later, Roosevelt bought the hotel and 1,200 acres and converted it into a polio treatment center. In 1932, running for president in the depths of the Great Depression, he built a refuge a mile away that would become known as the Little White House. He died there on April 12, 1945, during his fourth term, on what one report called a pleasant spring day.
The rural and relaxing pace that attracted Roosevelt has also drawn vacation-home owners and retirees — and even with the nation in the sharpest economic decline since the 1930s, the area is poised for more growth.
F. D. Roosevelt State Park, the largest in Georgia, now stretches more than 9,000 acres from Warm Springs west to Pine Mountain, home to Callaway Gardens, a 13,000-acre resort with gardens, golf and other activities, and planned communities aimed primarily at second-home buyers. The terrain in this part of the Piedmont is far from flat, with Pine Mountain rising 1,395 feet above sea level, overlooking the village of Pine Mountain Valley to the south and edging the town of Pine Mountain to the west.
Home choices include cabins on the mountain, houses with large tracts of land in the valley, and new communities inside the heavily wooded Callaway Gardens, lush this month with blooming azaleas and dogwoods.
“We love to see the azaleas,” said Bob Bonner, a semiretired landscape architect from Ypsilanti, Mich., who with his wife, Nancy, bought a newly built vacation home here in 2004. “It’s a season you can’t duplicate anywhere.”
The Bonners paid $350,000 for their two-bedroom house with a screened back porch and a two-car garage in the Longleaf development in Callaway Gardens.
Their home was built to be environmentally sensitive, including landscaping with a mat of pine needles, which don’t use the water and fertilization that grass needs. “With the pine straw, there’s no turf to manage,” Mr. Bonner said. “It makes it very nice for a part-time resident.”
Roosevelt was not only one of the first part-time residents of the area, but he was also behind one of its earliest developments — the Pine Mountain Valley Resettlement Project, a New Deal program begun in 1934 that built 210 homes for unemployed workers in the valley as well as a diversified farming operation that provided jobs for them.
David and Katherine Johnson, who retired to Pine Mountain Valley eight years ago from nearby Columbus, Ga., see themselves as part of a second wave of settlement. In 1989, they bought 17 rural, hilly acres with a creek for $1,100 an acre, and over the years expanded their property to 33 acres.
In 2001 they finished a replica of an 1840s farmhouse at a cost of about $185,000 and moved there permanently.
Mr. Johnson, a poet and former professor of English at Columbus State University, is producing a video about the resettlement project. He says he has found much in common with the current recession and the Great Depression. “There is a feeling of déjà vu doing the research,” he said.
Pine Mountain town, known until 1958 as Chipley, has a population of 1,263 according to 2007 census estimates and lies along an abandoned rail line that runs from Columbus to Atlanta that is being turned into a bicycle trail.
A downtown plaza is similar to those of many small Southern towns, but the influx of tourists and vacation-home owners supports some urbane spots. The Rose Cottage tea room at 111 East Broad Street has dark hardwood floors and solid wood furniture and is known for tasty muffins, desserts and a broad selection of tea. Around the corner at 149 North Main Street is Sweet Home Antiques, one of about a dozen antiques shops and arts and crafts stores in the town center.
Most outdoor activities revolve around the verdant grounds of Callaway Gardens, founded in 1952 by Virginia and Cason Callaway, and now owned and operated as part of the nonprofit Ida Cason Callaway Foundation.
Inside Callaway Gardens, there are 13 lakes, a wide beach, two golf courses, a tennis center, a spa, 10 miles of bike paths and 7.3 miles of walking paths. The resort also has 11 dining spots, with the Friday night seafood buffet ($24.95, $12.50 children 6 to 12) in the Plant Room restaurant a favorite of many.
Most second home owners here are from Georgia, Florida and Alabama, although some come from the Midwest and the Northeast.
Howard and Mary Busbee of Richmond, Va., discovered Pine Mountain in the ’70s when they lived in Atlanta and Ms. Busbee clipped a newspaper coupon for a discount on a weekend getaway at Callaway Gardens. They returned often and soon bought a cottage. In 1984 they sold the cottage and upgraded to a three-bedroom villa for $215,000 that they still own and often rent out.
When Callaway Gardens began developing new homes, the Busbees paid $375,000 in 2004 for a two-bedroom home with a large loft on a wooded half acre. They visit regularly, often with some or all of their children and nine grandchildren, spending their time bicycling, golfing, shopping, visiting Warm Springs and enjoying meals together. “We came for a weekend and have stayed for generations,” said Mr. Busbee, a retired accountant who is a visiting professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
Not all second homes here are in Callaway Gardens. In 2007 David and Debra King bought three acres and a 2,200-square-foot, 30-year-old ranch home for $253,000 less than half a mile from the Callaway Gardens entrance on Route 18. They invested about $45,000 and much of their own labor into renovating what will be their retirement home. The yard includes a swimming pool and a dozen blueberry bushes.
Atlanta is slightly more than an hour’s drive away, and Birmingham is about two hours’ drive. The terrain is unexpectedly steep and hilly for being so far south. Callaway Gardens and the Roosevelt historic sites can occupy visitors for days.
The only grocery store in Pine Mountain is a smallish IGA that is closed on Sundays.
The Real Estate Market
Sales have slowed said Dickie Fogal, owner of Pineland Properties in Pine Mountain.
In 2007, there were 397 homes in Pine Mountain and surrounding Harris County sold for an average price of $255,524, local multiple listing statistics that Mr. Fogal provided show. That dropped to 281 sales in 2008 at an average of $250,669, and through March 18 of this year, 30 homes had sold at an average of $231,578. Mr. Fogal, however, is optimistic about the area, particularly because of Callaway Gardens’ long-term growth plans. “This is really a place that is setting itself up to be discovered by a lot of people,” he said.
Callaway Gardens agents said they had seen a drop in sales but had experienced a recent uptick, selling four homesites during the last 30 days and scheduling two more closings.
Plans for construction in Callaway Gardens accommodate up to 1,400 new homes, but thus far only 131 have been built or are under construction, with all but eight in the six-year-old Longleaf community, where prices begin at $360,000. Three developments broke ground in the fall and a fourth is expected to be announced this spring. There are 212 older cottages and villas in Callaway Gardens, most built in the 1980s. Prices start in the $190,000s for the oldest of the two-bedroom cottages.
Outside Callaway Gardens, homes can be significantly cheaper, and larger tracts are available. At the highest elevation of Pine Mountain, the Mountain Top Inn and Resort has 30 modern log cabin vacation homes and room for 100 more on privately owned land surrounded by the Roosevelt State Park. An acre lot runs from $28,000 to $35,000, and building a new cabin costs about $175,000.
What was a favorite spot of Roosevelt’s is only about two miles away from the log-cabin community. He last visited Dowdell’s Knob, a scenic overlook where he often picnicked, two days before he died. In 2007 the state dedicated at the site a bronze statue of Roosevelt sitting on his removable car seat, wearing leg braces for polio, gazing at the wide, green valley.