Member of the Month – President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site
Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce
May 2019 Member of the Month
When was this historic site established?
During his tenure as president, the Calvin Coolidge birthplace was a popular location for visitors in the 1920’s, 4-5,000 cars were counted on one particular busy day! At the time there was no plumbing and electricity. The site was started in 1947 by the newly created Vermont Historic Sites Commission (now the VT Division for Historic Preservation). One of the Commission’s principle charges was to preserve the president’s birthplace. It was under private ownership at the time. The first buildings that were acquired were the Wilder House (originally the home of the president’s mother) and the barn where a large collection of early agricultural equipment was assembled. The State of Vermont also made improvements to the Plymouth Notch cemetery where the president is buried. Impressed by these efforts, John & Florence Coolidge (son & daughter-in-law of Calvin & Grace Coolidge) donated the homestead to the state in 1956. Other buildings were gradually acquired, and now most of the village of Plymouth Notch is preserved as the historic site, except for the church which is owned by the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. The post office, located in the same building since 1855, is believed to be the only one in the country that rents space from a state. Plymouth Notch is still a working village.
What are some of the features of this historic venue?
The site is open from late May and late October. Guided walking tours are offered on the hour. Currently the site oversees 25 buildings on 600 acres. Everything has been preserved as it was when the president lived there. It has been described as the best presidential birthplace in the entire U.S. It is the only birthplace which was also the location of a presidents swearing in ceremony.
In addition to the permanent exhibit “More Than Two Words”, a temporary exhibit each year showcases objects from the collection as well as items borrowed from other institutions. This year the theme is “Presidential Menagerie: The Coolidges & Their Pets” which is very family friendly. The president and his family were great pet lovers and kept a variety of pets from dogs, cats, birds and even a raccoon! Larger and more exotic pets he received as gifts were given to the national zoo.
The Plymouth Cheese Factory was founded by the president’s father and 4 other farmers in 1890. It stopped operations in the 1930s due to new milk storage laws. In 1960, the president’s son John revived the business and operated it until 1998 when he sold the building to the state. The business is now leased by Plymouth Artisan Cheese which produces the award winning Plymouth Cheese – a granular curd-type cheese using the original 1890 recipe.
The site hosts many special events such as the Holiday Open House in early December at the Coolidge Museum & Education Center. The biggest event of the year is the July 4th celebration which is also President Coolidge’s birthday and hosts an annual naturalization ceremony. The site also has a meeting room in the education center which is available to non-profit organizations for private meetings.
Has your organization ever face a challenge?
The biggest challenge is maintaining the large facility that includes 25 historic structures and approximately 600 acres of surrounding field and forest.
Is there something surprising about your organization most folks wouldn’t know?
The president started his education at the Black River Academy in Ludlow which is now also a museum. He went to college in Amherst MA and studied law at a firm in Northampton MA. He soon entered politics in Massachusetts and eventually served at every level of state government including on a city counsel, as mayor, in the state legislature, as a Governor and then at the federal level as president. He was the first republican presidential candidate to be selected by the delegates rather than the party bosses. He wrote all his own speeches. As president he enjoyed the prosperous era of the Roaring ‘20s where he reduced the national debt by a third. At that time 98% of Americans paid no federal income tax. Scholars consider his autobiography as the second best of all the presidential memoirs (second only to U.S. Grant). He was known as honest, thrifty, witty and also as “silent” Cal (since didn’t enjoy dinner party chit chat). President Coolidge doesn’t have a presidential library but the site houses many gifts of state he received from other world leaders during his time as president. The only country he visited as president was Cuba and the gift he received was a cigar humidor from the Cuban president.
VP Pence visited last fall and Lady Bird Johnson visited in 1960 when the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966 (she returned in 1995 and became a big fan of the site).
What is your role in the organization?
William Jenney is the Regional Site Administrator for the VT Division for Historic Preservation. He has been with the organization for over 30 years. He is the only full-time employee but has seasonal staff and many volunteers who help maintain the period gardens and at special events. He was able to meet the president’s son and half of the first staff he worked with knew the president personally. William also works with the Coolidge Foundation which is co-located at the site and has an additional office in Georgetown, DC. His goal is to continue to expand programs.
How long have you been a chamber member?
The site has been a member of the chamber for over a decade.
In what ways has the organization been involved with the Chamber?
We very much appreciate all the chamber’s help in promoting, recommending and referring visitors to us. The site attracts approximately 25,000 visitors annually to the region, including many motor coach groups especially in the Fall. We are a major tourism anchor located at the north end of the Okemo Valley region. We are also a major attraction for the state of Vermont. We get many returning visitors who bring new guests each time they come back to Okemo Valley.
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