Any well-interpreted historic site will pique your curiosity and drive you to continue learning beyond your visit… you leave wanting more. Presidential sites always fascinate me when they show how the home reflected the man and how a person could rise to the highest office in the land, sometimes from humble surroundings. Often it is the community that shapes the man. I’ve visited 18 presidential homes all around the country and one continues to stand at the top in its ability to paint a portrait of a president’s life. The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, drew me back recently and I left again wanting to know more about Coolidge. I read his autobiography and gained even more insight into this unexpected President, known for his quiet demeanor and frugality.
Tucked into the rolling hills and mountains of Vermont, Plymouth Notch is a village straight from the early 1900s. It was the birthplace and boyhood home of Coolidge, America’s president during the roaring ’20s. The carefully restored village is virtually unchanged from the days of Coolidge and includes the homes of Coolidge family members, neighbors, the general store and post office, the school house, the church, a cheese factory, tourist cabins, barns, and Silent Cal’s final resting place in the Plymouth Cemetery.
The first time I visited the site, I wasn’t a particular fan of Coolidge. Seeing the place helped changed that. I pondered how family and community can instill a value system that guides one through the tough decisions of a presidency. Coolidge was always mindful of his roots, despite the grandness of the office he held. Exploring this village, it is easy to see how this quiet, rural community molded Coolidge.
You can see the room where a sleepy Coolidge took the oath of office from his father, a notary public, upon word of President Harding’s death. The rooms are furnished as they were in 1923. You can see the General Store built in the 1850s and center of town life. Coolidge Hall upstairs served as the Summer White House and earlier as site of weekly dances sponsored by the Grange. Supposedly Coolidge often attended but never danced. The tourist cabins across the street provided comfortable accommodations for tourists and White House staff alike. It’s hard to imagine the city slickers of Washington roughing it.
Perhaps most impressive is the President’s modest gravestone. It says his name and dates, that’s it. It includes the presidential seal, but its simplicity reflects the man’s humbleness. He always felt he was one of the people, never above the people. The steep hillside cemetery, the resting place for seven generations of Coolidges, sits just downhill from the village. The entire site, while focused on Coolidge, does a wonderful job of interpreting local history while making the necessary connections to the national story.
Coolidge may not be one of the well-known Presidents, but a visit to this site should be on every Vermont tourist’s list. Have you visited this site? Tell about your experience.
Do you have a favorite presidential site? Which one and why?