Monday, April 26, 2010

Historic Vermont: Plymouth Notch

This month's Smithsonian Magazine has an article on a scenic tour of Vermont. One of the "stops" was the Calvin Coolidge Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, VT:
Ten miles or so northeast of Healdville lies Plymouth Notch, the Vermont village of white houses and weathered barns where President Calvin Coolidge spent his childhood. Preserved since 1948 as a state historic site, it remains one of Route 100’s most notable destinations, attracting 25,000 visitors annually.

The village, with its handful of inhabitants, has changed little since our 30th president was born here on July 4, 1872. His parents’ cottage, attached to the post office and a general store owned by his father, John, is still shaded by towering maples, just as Coolidge described it in a 1929 memoir.

“It was all a fine atmosphere in which to raise a boy,” Coolidge wrote. The autumn was spent laying in a supply of wood for the harsh winter. As April softened into spring, the maple-sugar labors began with the tapping of trees. “After that the fences had to be repaired where they had been broken down by the snow, the cattle turned out to pasture, and the spring planting done,” recalled Coolidge. “I early learned to drive oxen and used to plow with them alone when I was twelve years old.”

It was John Coolidge who woke his son—then the nation’s vice president on vacation at home—late on the night of August 2, 1923, to tell him that President Warren G. Harding had suffered a fatal heart attack. John, a notary public, swore in his son as the new president. “In republics where the succession comes by election I do not know of any other case in history where a father has administered to his son the qualifying oath of office,” the younger Coolidge would write later.

If you visit the online home of the Coolidge Historic Site, you can take a virtual tour. I found the shed bedroom to be the most interesting:
Hanging on the wall to the right of the chest of drawers is a woolen frock that was pulled over the head like a shirt and worn when working on the farm. This garment belonged to Calvin Galusha Coolidge (1815-1878), the President’s grandfather. When he became Vice President, Calvin Coolidge was often photographed wearing this frock around the farm.

The President later wrote: "When I went to visit the old home in later years I liked to wear the (frock) he left, with some fine calf-skin boots about two sizes too large for me, which were made for him when he went to the Vermont Legislature about 1858. When news pictures began to be taken of me there, I found that among the public this was generally supposed to be a makeup costume, which it was not... ."

The peacock feathers on the wall above the chest of drawers are from a bird kept on Grandfather Coolidge’s farm, the gray farmhouse across the pasture behind the Homestead.

The President wrote about his Grandfather Coolidge:

"He was an expert horseman and loved to raise colts and puppies. He kept peacocks and other gay-colored fowl and had a yard and garden filled with scarlet flowers... In his mind, the only real, respectable way to get a living was from tilling the soil... In order to tie me to the land, in his last sickness he executed a deed to me for life of forty acres... thinking that as I could not sell it, and my creditors could not get it, it would be necessary for me to cultivate it."

Calvin Coolidge made the quilt on the bed when he was ten years old. It was a common custom for a boy to piece a quilt. The pattern, sometimes called "Tumbling Blocks," is a particularly challenging design.

The handmade clock frame on the shelf is decorated with pieces of Vermont marble. The young Calvin Coolidge made the miniature chest of drawers on the worktable. Two carpetbags hang on the wall. The chamber pot, kept under the bed at night, was placed in the commode during the day. On the commode is a piece of Vermont soapstone. This stone was heated on the stove and retained the heat for about four hours. It helped keep feet warm in unheated bedrooms, church, and sleighs.

Colonel John, as Deputy Sheriff, kept prisoners in this room overnight when he did not have time to bring them to the county jail in Woodstock. His steel handcuffs are hanging on the wall near the peacock feathers. This bedroom was later used by Vice President Coolidge’s chauffeur.

They also have a partial online tour of Plymouth Notch. Coolidge is buried here along with seven generations of Coolidges.

It looks like this site is only open from May to October, so make sure to check the site if you plan to visit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To me it is really touching the humble beginnings from which some of our presidents have sprung. Coolidge may not have been the greatest president, but I would love to see this Vermont farm. I have been somewhat in love with Coolidge ever since he told off the housekeeper in "Backstairs at the White House."