Calvin Coolidge 30th President, 1923-1929
Birthplace, Plymouth Notch, Vermont
Calvin Coolidge was born in a home 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 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 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.
The large vaulted room above the General Store was used by the Grange family 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 including tables made especially for the President and instruments of the Plymouth old-time dance orchestra.
Union Christian Church, Plymouth Notch, Vermont
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 socials 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.
Homestead, Plymouth Notch, Vermont
The Calvin 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 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 grandparent’s 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 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.
Home, Northampton, Massachusetts
In 1905, Calvin Coolidge married Grace Goodhue who had come to Northampton to take the teacher-training course for Clarke School for the Deaf. In this same year Coolidge lost the election for a place on the school board. This was his first defeat. In August of 1905, the Coolidges made their home at 21 Massasoit Street in Northampton, MA. This was half a house and Grace’s sentimental favorite of their homes. It was here that the Coolidges raised two children.
In 1907-1908 Coolidge was elected to the Massachusetts State Legislature. Later on in 1910 and 1911 he was mayor of Northampton. Coolidge continued slowly moving up the political ladder. From 1912-1915, Coolidge was in the State Senate, and in the last two years he was president of the senate. Coolidge kept moving on. In 1916, 1917, and 1918 he was Lieutenant governor, and in 1919 he became Governor of Massachusetts. In 1920 Calvin Coolidge was elected as Warren G. Harding’s vice president and succeeded him after Harding’s death in 1923.
After completing President Harding’s term, President Coolidge was elected in his own right, and served a full four-year term, until March of 1929, when President Herbert Hoover was sworn in to office. President Coolidge chose not to run for reelection in 1928, but rather to retire back in Northampton where his political life all began.
When Calvin Coolidge left the White House in 1929, he became the only living ex-president at the time. When the train from Washington, which was to carry the Coolidges back to their 21 Massasoit Street home, arrived in Northampton, 6000 people welcomed him home. That beautiful train station still stands in Northampton, now the site of a popular restaurant. The station is within sight of, and a one-minute walk from The Masonic Building, where Coolidge maintained his law office.
Presidents left office in 1929 without benefit of paid staff, pension, franking privileges, or Secret Service protection. Like Cinderella when the clock struck 12, their temporary splendor melted away. Yet their fame lingered on–that and the public’s unrelenting curiosity. From his first days back on Massasoit Street, tourists besieged Coolidge. It became practically impossible for the former president to sit on his porch undisturbed. Admirers sought him out for a friendly handshake. Far worse were reporters who peeked in his windows at night and informed readers that the former president wore old-fashioned nightshirts to bed.
In 1930, the Coolidges bought another house, ” The Beeches” so he and Mrs. Coolidge could have some privacy.
Home, Washington, DC
In 1927, from March through September, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge lived at the Patterson House in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC, while the White House was being renovated and the roof raised and replaced. Stanford White designed the Patterson House in 1903 for Robert Wilson Patterson, publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The heavily ornamented, white marble Italian palace features a diagonal entrance loggia and a rudimentary air conditioning system, which was a revolutionary device for the times. The house was known mainly as the home of Robert’s daughter Cissy Patterson, who assumed her father’s business and formed the Times-Herald. The house has hosted other notable residents and guests, including Charles Lindbergh; and is used today by the private Washington Club.
Home, The Beeches, Northampton, Massachusetts
In the spring of 1930 Coolidge pulled up stakes and retreated behind the iron gates of “The Beeches.” Coolidge paid $40,000 for the place, perched high above the Connecticut River at the end of a cul-de-sac. To curious newsmen he explained his withdrawal behind iron gates as an act of altruism–now, he said, his “doggies” would have room to play. With its nine acres of clipped lawn and majestic trees, its handsome library and porch overlooking Mount Tom, the Beeches was more than a dignified retirement address. Never again, Coolidge gleefully noted, could a policeman order him to shovel off his sidewalk as on Massasoit Street.
Beginning in June 1930 Coolidge employed his gift for pith expression in a daily newspaper column. As the Depression worsened, Coolidge cut himself off from Republican politics. He vetoed out of hand a suggestion that he become president of Amherst. “Easier to control a Congress than a college faculty,” he observed. In a world adrift, the former president clung all the tighter to the values of Plymouth. As for the Depression’s causes, he professed bewilderment. “We may say that it was the result of greed and selfishness,” he wrote. “But what body is to be specifically charged with that? Were the wage earners too greedy in getting all they could for their work? Were the managers of enterprise, big and little, too greedy in trying to operate at a profit? Were the farmers too greedy in their efforts to make more money by tilling more land and enlarging their production?” “The most we can say is that there has been a general lack of judgment so widespread as to involve practically the whole country. We have learned that we were not so big as we thought we were. We shall have to keep nearer to the ground. We shall not feel so elated,” Coolidge concluded, “but we shall be much safer.”
It was a close to an apology as the proud father of Coolidge Prosperity ever came. In June 1931 he dropped his daily column, having no wish, he said, to serve as deputy president. Thereafter his routine became a gentle decrescendo. His daily office visits grew shorter, the mail lost its urgency, and the former president began spending more time in the old farmhouse in Plymouth
Like many elderly men, he found refuge in the haunts of his youth. Here he might escape the hay fever that plagued him for much of the summer months, tramping his ancestral acres, hunting partridge, or checking up on adjoining lots of sugar maples. His participation in the 1932 campaign was limited to single radio broadcast from Madison Square Garden and an election eve appeal from the Beeches’ library. “I hate making speeches,” Coolidge grumbled. He admitted surprise at the dimensions of Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide.
“I no longer fit in with these times,” he commented to a friend a month after the election. “When I read of the newfangled that are now so popular, I realize that my time in public affairs is past. We are in a new era to which I do not belong, and it would not be possible for me to adjust myself to it.” He told another acquaintance that he felt all burned out. He apologized for missing an Amherst alumni dinner. He had wanted to go, Coolidge said, but it was ruled out by all the attention invariably attending a former president. “If I could only get rid of my past life!” he added plaintively. “But that always stays with one.”
January 5, 1933 was a crisp mid-winter Thursday in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the redbrick Masonic Block, the city’s most famous resident put in a short morning at the second-floor law office marked Coolidge and Hemenway. It was part of the comfortable routine Calvin Coolidge had adopted since leaving the White House nearly four years earlier. Coolidge had always been careful with his money, his ideas, and his health. Now he remarked to no one in particular that he was getting to be an old man. Perhaps he would confine his future labors to the Beeches. Finishing his office work by 10 o’clock, Coolidge headed home in the Pierce-Arrow driven by the chauffeur he impishly called Johnny-Jump-Up. Inside the Beeches he teased a jigsaw puzzle of George Washington for a few minutes and chatted briefly with the hired man. The he went upstairs to shave before lunch. When Grace returned from a shopping trip shortly after noon, she found her husband’s lifeless form sprawled on the floor of his dressing room. Calvin Coolidge had died alone, the victim of a massive heart attack.
Library & Museum, Forbes Library, Northampton, Massachusetts
The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum contains materials documenting the private life of Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), beginning with his birth and formative years in Vermont, his student days at Amherst College, and his years as a young lawyer in Northampton. Exhibits and manuscripts, written and pictorial, cover his political career from Northampton to Boston to the White House and his post-presidential years as a Northampton resident. The Collection also includes materials of a similar nature related to the life of Grace Goodhue Coolidge (1879-1957).
The Coolidge Collection was established in 1920, when Calvin Coolidge gave documents and memorabilia to Forbes Library. Coolidge continued giving materials to the Library throughout the remainder of his life. At the end of his administration, he sent his personal library from the White House to the Forbes Library, in Northampton, Massachusetts; included were the well-known Howard Chandler Christy portraits of Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, and the infamous electric horse. The final impetus for the permanent home of the Coolidge Collection came in 1956. Acting upon the request of Grace Coolidge and the Trustees of Forbes Library, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts granted funds to establish a “Calvin Coolidge Memorial Room” as a separate entity within the library. Today, Forbes Library is the largest existing source of primary material on Calvin Coolidge and the only public library in the United States to hold a presidential collection.
The Collection consists of manuscripts, speeches, letters, videos, recordings, microfilms, the official presidential papers and the personal papers of President Coolidge, tapes, off-the-record press conferences, photographs, paintings, scrapbooks, broadsides, artifacts, and the famous electric exercise horse. The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum is managed by an Archivist/Curator and is available to researchers by appointment.
Northampton’s public library was built in the early 1890′s with a bequest from Charles Forbes (1794-1881), a prominent judge in Northampton. The spacious and elegant library, a marvel at the time of its construction, was an ideal location for a presidential collection. The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum is open Mon, Tues, Wed, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for visitors and researchers. Other visiting times can be arranged by appointment. There is no admission fee.
Gravesite, Plymouth Notch Cemetery, Plymouth Notch, Vermont
To his personal amusement, and the surprise of the nation, “Silent Cal” Coolidge announced his decision not to seek reelection in a sharp and typically playful statement: “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” He never explained why. Those closest to him suggested that he turned down almost certain reelection out of concern for his health. Others have speculated that he was perceptive enough to want to get out of the White House before the coming economic crash, which he had predicted to his wife.
In his retirement, Coolidge returned to Northhampton, Massachusetts, where he spent the next four years writing his autobiography and articles for national magazines. His nationally syndicated column for the McClure Newspaper chain, Thinking Things over with Calvin Coolidge, ran for a year in 1931. On January 5, 1933, Coolidge collapsed in his bedroom just after lunch-where he had gone to take his usual two-hour nap. His wife found him dead from a coronary thrombosis or heart failure. Characteristically, Coolidge’s last will was brief and to the point: “Not unmindful of my son John, I give all my estate, both real and personal, to my wife, Grace Coolidge, in fee simple.” It amounted to about $700,000. He was buried in the family plot in Plymouth Notch Cemetery, in his hometown
The Plymouth Notch Cemetery, beyond the Brown House and across Route 100A, is the gravesite of President Calvin Coolidge. Seven 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.”
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