Postcard History: Calvin Coolidge Homestead

By Carla Charter

PLYMOUTH NOTCH , VERMONT-  Several presidents have connections with New England. None more than Calvin Coolidge whose New England roots run seven generations deep.

Coolidge was born and raised in Plymouth Notch according to William Jenney, Regional Historic Site Administrator Vermont Division for Historical Preservation.  His father, Col. John Coolidge, was a storekeeper and Vermont State Senator. Colonel was an honorary title he was given as part of the Governor’s staff. Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction is named for Col. Coolidge.

As a child, Coolidge attended the Black River Academy in Ludlow, Vermont.  Coolidge reminisced about his school days in his book, The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge, writing,  “Of course our school life was not free from pranks. “The property of the townspeople was moved to strange places in the night. One morning as the janitor was starting the furnace he heard a loud bray from one of the class rooms. His investigation disclosed the presence there of a domestic animal noted for his long ears and discordant voice. In some way during the night he had been stabled on the second floor. About as far as I deem it prudent to discuss my own connection with these escapades is to record that I was never convicted of any of them and so must be presumed innocent.” After the academy, Coolidge moved on to Amherst College in Amherst, Ma.

Upon graduation, Coolidge became a lawyer in Northampton, Ma. and almost immediately went into politics. His career began as a city solicitor then Mayor of Northampton. From there he moved on to Massachusetts Senator, Lieutenant Governor and Governor.

Coolidge continued his career on a national stage serving as Vice President for Warren G. Harding and when Warren G. Harding died in office, Coolidge became the 30th U.S. President serving from August 1923 to March 1929. Coolidge received the news of Harding’s death while visiting the Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. He was immediately sworn in as president by his father, a Notary Public, by the light of a kerosene lamp, using the family Bible. “He was fortunate to be president during the most prosperous period in American History, the Roaring Twenties. He reduced the national debt by one-third and was running the government at a surplus. While as president he was famous for tax cuts which favored the lower and middle classes. There were figures stating that by the end of his administration 98% of Americans were paying no federal income tax. He was asked when he left office what he thought his greatest accomplishment was. He replied handling the economy. “

A museum at the Coolidge Homestead tells the story of Coolidge’s life and presidency.  It also houses Gifts of State given to Coolidge during his term as president. “The presidents in those days,” according to Jenney, “were allowed to keep gifts given to them from world leaders.”   Among the more unique Gifts of State on display include a chair given to Coolidge by the people of Hungary and a beautiful Orrefors Crystal Bowl given to Coolidge by the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden.

A quilt made by Calvin Coolidge when he was 10 years old, is also on display.  “They often taught farm boys to sew as it was the same stitching used in repairing harnesses.” The museum boasts the region’s best collection of late 19th century agricultural equipment, as well.

Coolidge had five locations where he set up a summer White House, including Plymouth Notch , Vt., Swampscott, Ma., the Adirondacks in New York, South Dakota and Brule Reservation in Wisconsin.  This year the museum will host a special exhibit, Presidential Holiday: The Coolidge Summer Retreats, 1924-1928, which examines the idyllic settings and historic events associated with President Coolidge’s five Summer White House locations.  The exhibit will showcase documentary photographs and artifacts of how the presidential family relaxed, including Coolidge’s fishing equipment. Also displayed will be the many gifts bestowed upon Coolidge during his summer explorations including examples of Native American beadwork and a cowboy outfit from the South Dakota Summer White House.  The headdress given to President Coolidge when he was made leader of the Sioux Nation, will also be on display for the first time in Vermont and is on loan from the Forbes Library in Northampton where it has resided since the 1920s.  Coolidge is responsible for signing a law making Native Americans, American Citizens.

Along with the museum the entire village of Plymouth Notch has been preserved as it was 100 years ago. Buildings preserved in the Village include the Coolidge home, his parents and grandparents home the Plymouth Cheese Factory, the second oldest in the United States, the post office and church as well as the Village Dance Hall which served as the 1924 summer White House office.  Calvin Coolidge is buried in Plymouth Notch Cemetery.

More Information on the Calvin Coolidge Homestead can be found at https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/presidents/calvin_coolidge_homestead.html