Slayton: Coolidge Homestead

Jul 20, 2017

It’s obvious that Calvin Coolidge loved his hometown, the tiny village of Plymouth Notch. Even after he was President, he returned there whenever he could, went fishing as any country lad might, and did farm chores wearing his grandfather’s coarse homespun farmer’s smock.

Coolidge genuinely enjoyed wearing that smock. Probably he felt it connected him to his past and the place he’d grown up in.

But when he was photographed in it, the newspapermen assumed he was putting it on as a kind of costume, and so Coolidge grudgingly put it aside, grumbling: “In public life, it is sometimes necessary, in order to appear really natural, to be actually artificial.”

I saw that smock — the actual one Coolidge wore — at the Visitor Center in Plymouth Notch recently. And it looks like it would be pretty hot on a warm July day.

The gritty reality of history — the warp and woof of an actual chapter in our recent past — is meticulously preserved here. With a couple of exceptions — the modern visitor center is one of them — Plymouth Notch remains the little hill village that Calvin Coolidge grew up in.

In a tiny apartment at the back of the village store, you can see the bedroom, and the very bed Coolidge was born in. On it is a little doll that belonged to his sister. The fields surrounding the village are still mown for hay, and you can walk in them, as young Calvin must have.

It is perhaps Vermont’s most important historic site, and not only because Coolidge was born, and was sworn in as President here. Plymouth Notch is also emblematic of authentic small-town life — and that had a lot to do with both Calvin Coolidge and the Vermont of today.

Coolidge had good values that helped him restore public faith in the Presidency after the awful Harding administration. I’m persuaded that good values can be created in a place like this, where people work cooperatively together and know and usually like one another.

And I trust those values more than the values so evident in Washington today.

Places like Plymouth Notch are important because they remind us not only where Calvin Coolidge came from, but of where we come from. And in our own unsettled times, these places and the values they embody offer constancy, insight, and hope.