Attractions ~ Exploring Hawk Country ~ Calvin Coolidge Historic Site
This rural Vermont village, the birthplace and boyhood home of Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth President of the United States, remains virtually unchanged since the turn of the century. But even more unusual is that Plymouth Notch was also where Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President, by his father, in the front room of his home. The houses of President Coolidge's family and neighbors, the community church, cheese factory, one-room schoolhouse, and general store have all been carefully preserved, as have many of their original furnishings. The President is buried in the town cemetery.
In 1970, the entire community and the hilltops surrounding the village were recognized as being significant in our national heritage by inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The site's administration office is located in the Aldrich House and is open weekdays year-round. Here, during the winter months, when the site as a whole is closed for the season, you may find special exhibits on President Coolidge.
Places of Interest at the Site
The Calvin Coolidge Visitor's Center was built by the State for the centennial of President Coolidge's birth in 1972. The building's architectural style is similar to early stone structures featuring Vermont slate roofs, which are commonly found in the region. The Visitor's Center contains a museum and gift shop. An introductory exhibit examines Calvin Coolidge's career, and changing displays feature gifts presented to the President from around the world.
The Coolidge Homestead was the boyhood home of Calvin Coolidge. It was while vacationing here that Vice President Coolidge received word of the unexpected death of President Warren G. Harding. Colonel John Coolidge, a notary public, administered the presidential oath of office to his son at 2:47 a.m. on August 3, 1923. Years later, an inquisitive visitor asked Colonel Coolidge, "How did you know you could administer the presidential oath to your own son?" The laconic Vermonter replied, "I didn't know that I couldn't." The Coolidges moved here in 1876, when Calvin was four years old. Young Calvin's regular chores included filling the wood box and caring for the animals. Free time was often spent at his grandparents' gray farmhouse across the pasture, behind the Homestead. Colonel Coolidge lived in this house until his death in 1926. His housekeeper, Aurora Pierce, stayed on for another 30 years. Aurora, a tiny lady of steel will, never accepted the easy life of electricity and "new fangled" plumbing, and so the house remained much as it was in 1923. An addition built by the President in 1931 was removed in 1956 when the house was given to the State of Vermont by the President's son and daughter-in-law, John and Florence. The rooms are furnished exactly as they were in 1923.
The Wilder Barn exhibits an extensive collection of 19th-century farm implements, horse-drawn vehicles, and the original equipment from the Plymouth Cheese Factory. This large barn dates circa 1875. The structure's hand-hewn beams are pegged together, and it is clad with unpainted vertical pine boards with narrow battens and topped with a gabled roof covered with cedar shingles.
The Wilder House was originally a tavern built around 1830 and was the childhood home of President Coolidge's mother, Victoria Josephine Moor. Victoria married John Coolidge in the front sitting room in 1868. Her sister and brother-in-law, Gratia and John Wilder, lived in the house in later years. The Wilder House is painted the distinctive mustard-gold color it was in 1923. The interior was remodeled as a coffee shop in 1956, and the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch during the season.
The Plymouth Cheese Factory was built in 1890 by Colonel John Coolidge, James S. Brown and two other local farmers. It served as a convenient outlet for the milk produced on their farms. The plant closed in the 1930s, but was reopened by the President's son, John, in the 1960s. The original formula is still used for the "granular curd" type cheese, which can be purchased at the factory.
The One-Room Schoolhouse, next to the Cheese Factory, was built about 1890. It replaced the stone schoolhouse from which Calvin Coolidge graduated eighth grade in 1885. Stones from the earlier school were reused as the foundation for the present structure. The building is now used for school programs at the site and is not open to the public on a daily basis.
Azro Johnson Farm, a few hundred yards beyond the Schoolhouse, is a fine stone farmhouse built about 1845. It is typical of the "ashlar" stone construction found in this area of Vermont. The mica schist stone was taken from a small quarry southwest of the house. (Not open to the public.)
The Carrie Brown Coolidge Garden, opposite the Homestead, was started and maintained by the President's stepmother. Some of the perennial flowers are descended from the original plants, others are representative of those found in gardens of the period.
The Union Christian Church was built in 1840 and dedicated as a Congregational Church in 1842. It is in the Greek Revival style. The original iron thresholds for the front doors were cast at Tyson Furnace in the southern part of the town of Plymouth. Strawberry sociables and baked bean suppers were held to raise funds for building repairs in the 1890s. A local artisan, Willie Pierce, redesigned the interior in the Carpenter Gothic style. The hard pine for the woodwork was sawn at a local mill. The interior offered perfect acoustics for the new Estey pump organ, and the Church was rededicated in 1900. The Church is owned by the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. The Coolidge Foundation is a private, nonprofit, membership organization with offices in the basement of the Church. The Foundation perpetuates the memory of President Coolidge through educational programs and publications.
The Florence Cilley General Store was built during the 1850s. John Coolidge, the President's father, became storekeeper in 1868. The rent was $40 a year, and by careful management, profits averaged $100 a month. Coolidge soon purchased the store and entered into a partnership with his wife's brother in 1875. He sold his share of the business in 1877, but owned the building until 1917. Florence Cilley, whose name appears above the front door, operated the store between 1917 and 1945. The small post office at the front of the store served the town until 1976.
Coolidge Hall, the largely vaulted room above the General Store, was used by the Grange for weekly dances and family reunions well into the 20th century. It became famous when it served as President Coolidge's Summer White House office in 1924. Restored in 1991, the hall features an interpretive exhibit and original furnishings.
The Plymouth Post Office, located in the former carriage barn attached to the General Store, is an operating United States Post Office.
The Calvin Coolidge Birthplace is attached to the General Store. Calvin Coolidge was born in the downstairs bedroom on July 4, 1872. He was the first child of John Calvin and Victoria Josephine Moor Coolidge. His sister, Abigail, was born in 1875. The family lived in this modest house until 1876, when they moved across the road to what is now called the Coolidge Homestead. Unlike the other buildings in Plymouth Notch, the Coolidge birthplace was extensively renovated over the years. The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation purchased the building in 1968 and restored the Birthplace to its 1872 appearance. Original furnishings were donated by the Coolidge family.
The Aldrich House, currently the site's administration office, was the home Carrie Brown, Calvin Coolidge's much admired teacher and later his stepmother. Later, it was the home of Plymouth's first cheesemaker, Eugene Aldrich, and his daughter Ruth, who was known to all as "Midge." For many years, Midge operated a tea room in this house. Built in the early 1800s, this house is a good example of "continuous New England architecture." Inclement weather could be avoided by going directly from the house to the barn.
The Top of the Notch Cabins provided Plymouth tourists with modest, but comfortable accommodations. They are typical of the late 1920s and were prefabricated. "Midge" Aldrich, daughter of Eugene, operated these cabins, a gift shop and tea room called "Top of the Notch" for many years. The middle cabin has been restored and is open to the public for viewing.
The Brown Family Farmhouse, at the southern end of the village, was built in 1869. This was one of Plymouth's outstanding farms, particularly under the care of James S. Brown. In 1879, the farm's production included 4,000 pounds of butter, 400 bushels of buckwheat, 350 bushels of oats, and 80 tons of hay. The garden area in front of the house, which is enclosed by the white picket fence, is the location of an earlier homestead of the Brown family. (Not open to the public.)
The Plymouth Cemetery, beyond the Brown House and across Route 100A, is the gravesite of President Calvin Coolidge. Six generations of Coolidges are buried here. Established before 1800, this steep hillside cemetery is under the care of the Plymouth Cemetery Commissioners who are elected at the annual Town Meeting. The serenity of the village and surrounding mountains is appropriately reflected in the simple granite headstone that marks the President's grave. Visitors are sometimes surprised that a president should be buried in such plain surroundings, but when Coolidge left the White House, he said, "We draw our Presidents from the people... I came from them. I wish to be one of them again."
The Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site is open daily from late-May through mid-October. Please call (802) 672-3773 for more information.
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