By William Jenney
Special To The Standard
The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation (VDHP), part of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, was originally established by the Vermont Legislature in 1947 as the Historic Sites Commission. One of the primary charges to this Commission was that “special attention be given to the suitable development of President Coolidge’s birthplace.”
At that time, thousands of people were visiting Plymouth Notch, although all the structures in the village were privately owned, and none were restored and open to the public. In 1947 the State purchased the Wilder House and began renovations to open it as an information center and lunchroom. Soon afterwards, the Wilder Barn was restored and a major agricultural collection was assembled to exhibit in the large structure. The State also made significant repairs to the Plymouth Notch Cemetery, which improved public accessibility at the presidential gravesite.
Impressed by the State of Vermont’s efforts at Plymouth Notch, and following the wishes of Grace Coolidge, John and Florence Coolidge donated the Coolidge Homestead and its contents to the State in 1956. Over the next thirty years, the State of Vermont purchased major parcels of land and significant buildings in Plymouth Notch, and, in 1972, for the centennial of President Coolidge’s birth, constructed a modern Visitor Center.
Today, the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation owns and maintains 26 buildings and 580 acres at Plymouth. The buildings, many of which have their original contents, include the Coolidge Birthplace, Coolidge Homestead, Coolidge Farm Shop, Wilder House (home of the President’s mother), Wilder Barns, Aldrich House & associated tourist cabins and souvenir stand, Plymouth Cheese Factory (still producing the distinctive “granular curd” Plymouth Cheese under the management of Plymouth Artisan Cheese), Florence Cilley General store, Coolidge Hall (dance hall and 1924 Summer White House office), one-room schoolhouse, and two prominent farmhouses with associated outbuildings. A Transportation Enhancement Grant and state capital appropriations in 2003 facilitated the reconstruction of the Wilder Horse Barn – the only major structure that was missing from the historic village. The U.S. Postal Service rents space from the Division in the Cilley Store/Coolidge Birthplace building, continuing the 150-year tradition of the post office in that structure. The Division maintains a year-round regional office and exhibits in the Aldrich House, and a restaurant and two museum stores during the summer season. The historic tour now includes much of the village; two walking trails allow visitors to explore the surrounding fields and forest. Popular annual events include July 4th Coolidge Birthday Celebration, Plymouth Old Home Day, Grace Coolidge Musicales, Plymouth Folk & Blues Concerts, Plymouth Cheese & Harvest Festival, and Coolidge Holiday Open House. A variety of educational programs for schoolchildren and adults are offered by the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.
The Division owns and curates the principal collection of three dimensional artifacts associated with President Coolidge and his family, and many of these objects are on permanent display at the state historic site. Artifacts include the President’s medal collection, presidential gifts of state, family portraits, decorative arts, household furnishings, clothing and other personal accessories, and the of the region’s finest collections of late 19th/early 20th century agricultural equipment. These objects are currently being catalogued into a software program called “PastPerfect” – this two year project is funded by a generous grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services. The Division works closely with the other “Coolidge collections” (Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum at the Forbes Library, Vermont Historical Society, Library of Congress, and Coolidge Foundation) and regularly loans objects for exhibitions at other presidential museums and libraries.
The Division is now in the final phase of constructing an addition to the 1972 Visitor Center. This “President Calvin Coolidge Museum & Education Center” is funded through the Vermont Capital Budget, Federal Grants, and private donations made to the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Designed by Black River Architects of Montpelier and overseen by the Department of Buildings and General Services, the addition is being constructed by Wright Construction of Mount Holly. The project more than doubles the size of the original building. The Museum & Education Center will include offices, a classroom, special function room, reception room with fireplace, an expanded gift shop, exhibit galleries, restrooms, and a climate controlled storage room for the object collection. The President Calvin Coolidge Museum & Education Center will be dedicated on August 7, 2010.
This complex, now called the “President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site,” includes most of the Plymouth Notch Historic District which is a National Historic Landmark. Regarded as one of the best-preserved presidential sites in the nation, Plymouth Notch is also a pristine example of an early 20th century Vermont hill town.
Regional Historic Site Administrator
State of Vermont Division for Historic Preservation