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Can You Find the Secret Service?Why rise at 5 a.m. to drive across Georgia from Macon to Plains, population 700? Among Plains’ residents are Rossalyn and Jimmy Carter, and the former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner was teaching Sunday school that morning.

We were thrilled and excited, but we had doubts. Would we be welcome in this small town? The Maranatha Baptist Church is tiny, with room for only 300. Would there be room? It is not our denomination. Is it ok if we attend?

We arrived at the Church at 8 am. The Greeter smiled, laughed and erased our worries, The Secret Servicemen took our picture to ensure that our camera really was a camera and then urged us in, “you never know when the buses will show up.” We were fine.

Once seated inside, the pews filled around us, save the few cordoned off for active members. Before we knew it, a quiet man had slipped through a side door. Jimmy Carter was standing just six pews away.

He asked where we were all from. California, Uganda, Poland, Germany, Florida. People from dozens of countries and states had made the same pilgrimage. Gab eagerly yelled out Pennsylvania. Jimmy’s response, his warm wide smile of acknowledgment, made us all feel loved.

President CarterHis lesson’s topic was Joseph’s part in the Christmas story, but his lesson invoked elections in Mozambique, vacationing with his grandchildren and a profound biblical knowledge. We felt blessed and thankful for the teachings of such a pious, humble and great man.

Jimmy left saying, almost apologetically, that in two weeks he would be unable to teach in Plains. He was going to Palestine to oversee an election. He reminded us of what Anwar Sadat told him at Camp David that “regardless of religion, we are all sons of Abraham.” We must learn to live together.

Click Here to Read More about Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.

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Plains, Ga.
Visited: December 19, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 129 of 353
NPS Website; Maranatha Baptist Church

Plains High aka Carter NHS Visitor Center

WHAT IS IT?
Numerous buildings in Plains, Georgia, the boyhood and current home of the 39th U.S. president, Jimmy Carter. The Site celebrates Carter’s life as well as life in a typical rural southern town.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Buildings are simple and only as large as they need to be. The few blocks of Main Street barely put a dent in the fields that surround the town. Plains, Georgia has added a few placards to the roads and a few Secret Service men to their population. Other than that, there is nothing to distinguish this quiet town from others nearby. In many ways the town is just like its most famous native son; what you see is what you get.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
Jimmy Carter led his improbable runs to Georgia State Senate (1963), Georgia Governor (1970) and president of the United States (1976) here in Plains, Georgia. Carter’s amazing success demonstrates that idealism and good people have a place in politics.

In 1961, when apparently defeated in his initial foray into public office, Carter refused to admit defeat. He and his family braved death threats and the Southern status quo by showing that the Georgia Senate race had been overwhelmingly fraudulent. Many of the long-time incumbent’s votes had come from deceased citizens, voting in alphabetical order. The election results were overturned. President Carter has never stopped fighting for electoral fairness worldwide.

Jimmy Carter currently lives at the western city limit of Plains, Georgia but his home is only about 800 yards from the small town’s center. Preserved at the center is the Plains Depot, the train stop from where his presidential campaign ran.

Waiting for JimmyCROWDS (9/10)
Who could be as excited as we were to see President Carter? Every other person filling the Church and later browsing the old school building/Visitor Center and strolling the main street of Plains. The Church greeter recognized us at the Peanut Patch, a small store downtown. The town of Plains doubles in size almost every Sunday. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and free samples.

It is not often that we feel such a sense of camaraderie with our fellow park visitors. There was a palpable excitement and joy in the air. We believe Jimmy and Rosalynn bring it every time they come home.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site is the city of Plains, Georgia. Plains is 10 miles west of Americus, GA on US 280. Another NPS site, Andersonville NHS, lies 20 miles northeast of Americus. Both sites can be visited in one day. One long, emotional day.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
Each of Carter’s 19 books were for sale, including his newest, Sharing Good Times. Most could also be purchased in an audio or large print version. All come with an autograph request form.

Site MuralSome books seemed out of place until you looked harder. Why is Mattie Stepanek’s Journey Through Heartsongs here? Carter was a hero to Mattie, a young poet and disabilities advocate who dreamed of being a peacemaker, just like President Carter. Mattie passed away last year from a rare form of muscular dystrophy but not before his hero wrote the Forward to his collection of poems.

Each book is here for a reason. Browsing them, one can see the extent of President Carter’s touch and influence on the world far after his presidency concluded.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free. One may give a donation at the Maranatha Baptist Church, but it is not required. We are a little embarrassed to say just how many free samples of fried peanuts and peanut brittle we sampled at the Peanut Patch.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Little known fact: some Rangers rotate among Sites. This is the second time we have spoken with a Ranger and walked away wondering where we had seen him before.

There were two Rangers at the Visitor Center. One or two more may have helped with the post-Church rush which filled the school lobby.

TOURS/CLASSES (10/10)
The Jimmy Carter NHS Visitor Center is located in his and Rosalynn’s old High School. The building itself is a part of the Site. The displays are terrific, especially the touch screen computer where the president and first lady answer questions from grade school children. The Charles Kuralt-narrated film recounting the early life of Jimmy Carter is well done.

President CarterThe highlight of the Jimmy Carter NHS is found in the Maranatha Baptist Church, another building that the Site preserves. Nearly every Sunday, President Carter teaches Bible study at 10:00 a.m. Click here for his schedule. He missed a December lesson because he was in Mozambique certifying their second democratic election and will missed last Sunday’s talk because he was in Palestine on the same mission.

Get to church by at least 8:30; the pews only seat 300 and half are reserved for church members. His talk was incredibly moving. He intertwined the message of the Gospel with his amazing life experience and knowledge all the while never forgetting to flash his well-known grin.

President Carter radiates a feeling of love throughout the audience. A couple behind us had traveled the previous week from their home in Tallahassee to the Sunday bible lesson. They were so touched that they had to return. If we lived nearby, we would do the same.

FUN (10/10)
This felt like a once in a lifetime experience even though President Carter teaches as often as he can.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
It is hard to believe that a former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize award winner makes himself available to the public on a weekly basis for the humble task of preaching the Gospel in a tiny Baptist church. Find your way to Plains, Georgia on a Sunday while you can. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are American treasures.

TOTAL 61/80

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Mentor, Ohio
Visited: May 3, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 34 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


Lawnfield
WHAT IS IT?
Lawnfield. The farm estate built in 1876 by then Ohio Congressman and future 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Due to its two large-scale additions, Lawnfield is a mish-mash of architectural styles; let’s just say modified Queen Anne. The House has been lovingly restored and freshly repainted a grayish-blue color. It looks immaculate. The large and historically notable front porch defines the House.

The House’s interior is oddly quirky and very personal. You think you are in a stately Victorian furnished room until you take a closer look and see, for example, the fireplace mantle surrounded by inlayed tiles painted by Lucretia Garfield and her children. There is subtle whimsy everywhere. The House feels very comfortable and lived in even though it has been a museum for six decades.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
James A. Garfield was a prominent Ohio Congressman when he bought a rundown nine-room farmhouse in 1876. In the spring of 1880, Garfield added a second story and 11 rooms to the structure. Shortly thereafter, he was unexpectedly chosen at the Republican nominating convention (on the 36th ballot no less) to be their candidate for president.

Nearly all of Garfield’s presidential campaigning took place on Lawnfield’s porch. At least 17,000 people visited the House that summer to hear the famed orator speak. His “front porch” campaign set a new standard, as aggressive appeals for votes would become the norm.

1st Presidential LibrayCROWDS (6/10)
We took the tour alone. It would have been nice to see more people but having the guide all to ourselves was a huge plus. We asked so many questions that we almost felt guilty.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The James A. Garfield NHS is easily located on U.S. 20, about 25 miles northeast of Cleveland. The Site is very close to Interstate 90. Brown NPS signs point you on your way. There is plenty of parking.

The Site was completely accessible for people with disabilities.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
A nice mix of Victorian knickknacks and standard NPS books. There were a few books on Garfield, which is probably a definitive collection.

COSTS (3/5)
A guided tour of the house costs $6 per adult. AAA discount knocks off a dollar. Its $3 per person if you have the National Parks Pass.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
Our guided tour of the Garfield House was done by a Western Reserve Historical Society member, not a Park Ranger. She was a fantastic guide, one of the best we’ve had so far. She sparked our curiosity. She seemed to know where from, what, and why about every decoration, furniture piece and painting in the entire house.

For example, Michael saw a picture of John Brown hanging in a corner of an upstairs room. Before he could even say ‘Is that John Brown?” our guide was ready with her answer: “Yes it is John Brown”. “It is not an original to the House, the Historical Society purchased it years ago and decided to hang it in a bare space,” she said. “There is a connection, you know. Garfield was an abolitionist supporter but he probably wouldn’t have hung up a picture of John Brown, especially when he was running for president. Still, John Brown lived nearby and while there is no record, he and Garfield probably met.”

WindmillTOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
Everything about the Site is first rate: the interactive museum, the short film and especially the guided tour. Before we arrived in Mentor, Ohio, we knew nothing about James A. Garfield, except that he was assassinated.

By the time we left, we felt like we knew the man, his wife and his family. We even gained both strong admiration and affection, so much so that we visited his mausoleum in Cleveland.

FUN (7/10)
The tour and the museum were great but who knew that the personality and life of James A. Garfield would be so interesting. He was the last president to be born in a log cabin. In his life, he moved from canal worker to student to university president to ordained minister to Ohio state senator to attorney to decorated Union General to Congressman to Smithsonian Institution regent to U.S. Senator to president of the United States.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
Driving into Mentor, we both joked that we would be in and out of the site within the hour. Garfield was only president for 200 days, how much could one say about him? We weren’t sure what to expect but we were pretty sure we would be only mildly interested. So wrong. Lawnfield is a gem. It did what all historic sites should do – make the visitor want to learn more.

Thanks to the historian who guided us through the house and the house itself, we continue to seek out information about James and his wife Lucretia, whose personality is evident throughout the house and in the fact that she created what some say is the first Presidential Library to honor her husband and his collection of writings and resources.

TOTAL 53/80

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