It boggles the mind to think of it, but in 1924 the United States was run out of the second floor of a store in Plymouth Notch, Vt. The inauspicious town is the site of President Calvin Coolidge’s birth, his swearing in as president and his summer White House in the year 1924.
The Plymouth Notch buildings now belong to the President Calvin Coolidge Homestead District. The district includes more than a dozen buildings, some mostly original and others restored as closely as possible to the days when Coolidge lived there.
We’ll focus for our purposes on the family store and the boyhood home of a man who made it all the way to the White House by relying on the values he learned growing up on a farm in a small town, the hard work that was second nature to his family and the ethics all of this imbued in him. It may be hard to believe in this day, but the proof is here in Plymouth Notch.
Coolidge Family History in Vermont
Captain John Coolidge was the first Coolidge to settle in Plymouth. Coolidge, born in 1756 in Massachusetts, served in the American Revolution. He used his pay for his service to buy farmland in Plymouth, and established the family in the notch. John was the great, great grandfather of President Calvin Coolidge, and founder of the two family industries: farming and politics.
John’s son Calvin Galusha Coolidge continued the family farm, and also served as a representative in the Vermont House of Representatives and numerous local offices. His son John picked up where he left off.
John Coolidge, father to a president. was a Civil War veteran and dynamic businessman. He served in the legislature and worked as farmer, blacksmith, bricklayer, mason, carriage maker, harness maker, teacher, store owner, banker and insurance broker. He was also one of the founders of the Coolidge Cheese Factory in 1890, which is still part of the Coolidge Homestead.
On July 4, 1872, the little town of Plymouth would have been alive with excitement both in celebration of the nation’s independence and the birth of another baby boy – John Calvin Coolidge, future president of the United States.
From the backhouse to the White House
The building that housed the Coolidge store in Plymouth Notch was built for that purpose sometime prior to 1835. It was a typical two-story store building with a storage wing on the southern side. At the rear of the store, a small house was built some time later. By 1872, the little house at the rear of the store was occupied by John and Victoria Coolidge, parents of the future president.
After a few difficult years, the Coolidge family moved into the Coolidge Homestead, a home purchased by the family in 1876. The future president would live here continuously through 1887, when he began schooling at the Black River Academy at Ludlow. Over the next two dozen years Calvin would steadily build a political career in neighboring Massachusetts, progressing from mayor of Northampton to the state senate, the governorship and finally to the office off the vice president of the United States.
But Coolidge stayed in close touch with his roots, returning frequently to Plymouth Notch for vacations and reunions.
August 1923 found Coolidge back visiting his childhood homestead, now home to his father and stepmother, Carrie. Word arrived from Washington, D.C. that President Warren G. Harding had died of cardiac arrest. Coolidge’s father, a notary public, awakened him with the news. John Coolidge also gave his son the oath of office standing in the dining room of his childhood home, the family Bible nearby.
President Coolidge returned to Washington. President Harding had been a very popular president at the time of his death. Scandalous stories and news of his affairs began to leak out afterwards, dragging down his reputation. The situation was tailor made for Coolidge. His reputation had always been that of a dry, no-nonsense New England Puritan, and it carried him to re-election as president in 1924.
In 1927, Coolidge announced he would not seek reelection in 1928. Philosophically, he believed that another four years, which would have left him in office for more than 11 years, was too long for one man to hold power. Personally, he was exhausted. He died in 1933 in semi-retirement at Northampton.
A Summer White House
For one glorious summer, in 1824, Plymouth Notch served as the White House. In that era, Washington was considered too hot to be healthy in summers. Presidents and congressmen routinely left for extended summer recess.
Coolidge decided he would spend the summer recess of 1924 at his family home in Vermont, where his son had recently been buried after an untimely death. His office? The inauspicious second floor of his father’s general store, with a telephone to tend to pressing government affairs.
While there he attended to business and entertained. Industrialists Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone were among the guests at the humble Coolidge homestead. The Secret Service had to camp out in tents.
That the laconic and frugal ‘Silent Cal’ could have emerged from such a hard-working and wholesome place as Plymouth Notch to become president may seem like a fiction. But it happened, and the President Calvin Coolidge Homestead District is proof, complete with a quilt the president worked on himself, furniture he constructed, a video showing him harvesting hay and a grave of a president that is inspiring by its humble nature. It is open seasonally, offering tours and cheese for sale.
The Calvin Coolidge Visitor Center is located at 3780 Rte. 100A in Plymouth, VT. The Aldrich House, the site’s office, is located at 249 Coolidge Memorial Rd. For more information visit the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site website.
Photos Courtesy of the Library of Congress
For more information on the history of the buildings at the Calvin Coolidge Homestead District, read its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.