By David Cogger
Special To The Standard
PLYMOUTH – Bill Jenney doesn’t like to talk much about his own life, but when he does, it is with humility.
Jenney would be the first person to tell you he didn’t know very much about Calvin Coolidge, the 30th United States president, prior to becoming site manager at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch in 1988. Since then, Jenney has become an authority on all things Coolidge absorbing facts about the former president and his family through both anecdote and serious research.
What Jenney has accomplished as manager of the 580-acre site, which includes 25 buildings and employs a part time staff, is certainly impressive. The historic site has doubled the size of its Visitors’ Center, added auditorium and exhibit space with a year-round classroom and acquired numerous buildings through the generosity of the Coolidge family and grants. Jenney has also overseen the restoration of the house where President Coolidge was born and supervised construction of a near perfect replica of the horse barn that collapsed in the 1940s using photographs of the original structure.
Jenney did not start out with dreams of a career in the world of historic preservation, but, by any measure, he has always been a high achiever. He was a pre-med student at the University of Vermont majoring in plant science. He was selected as the Outstanding Senior in Biology and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Then, he pursued graduate degrees in Plant Science and History Museum Studies, which led him to the world of historic site management.
Today, Jenney lives on site where he wears many hats: administrator, curator and, on occasion, snow-removal service shoveling walkways throughout the site in order to comply with local fire department regulations.
Jenney said he moved to the Coolidge historic site due largely to his friendship with John Coolidge, son of President Coolidge. “I was very privileged to have known him and his wife very well,” Jenney said.
The relationship has paid off for the Site. John Coolidge purchased properties that have since been donated to the site, including East Mountain, across the street. The acquisition protects the site from encroachment by developers and preserves an unobstructed view of the hills. In addition, Mr. Coolidge donated gifts of state received by President Coolidge, resulting in the site’s having the largest collection of three-dimensional objects pertaining to the Coolidge presidency. “The collection at the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library in Northampton MA is mostly archival,” according to Jenney. The Plymouth Notch Site is not an archival facility, yetâ€¦
Current director of the Woodstock Historical Society Jack Anderson has known Jenney for years and worked as an intern at the Notch in the summer of 1993, while he attended graduate school at UVM.
“I was also interning at the Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, so I had to split my time. Bill was very understanding about all of that. For years he had wanted to lay out walking trails on the property around the village center at Plymouth Notch, so I volunteered for that. Bill and I drew the maps and wrote the interpretation, and then I cut the trails. Bill was great, he got me the lumber I needed to build the bridges over the brook, got me a Jari cutter to blaze the trails, and extra help from staff. He even grabbed a hammer – once – but after a few miss-hits, put it down. Bill was great to work with. I never saw him get upset – visibly, anyway – and he has a wry sense of humor.”
Mimi Baird has been on the Coolidge Foundation board since 1994 and has witnessed Jenney “single-handedly” maintain and beautify the site. “He is well spoken and a great writer,” said Baird. “He is a quiet and accomplished gentleman.”
“He lives and breathes the job,” added Cyndy Bittinger, former executive director of the Coolidge Foundation. “He was a wonderful partner to work with for events at the historic site.”
Bittinger and Jenney worked together on “Moxie Giveaway” convincing the company that makes the soft drink to donate some for the event. Moxie was apparently President Coolidge’s favorite drink. The souvenir shop located on site, which Jenney manages, carries Moxie and a number of locally made Vermont products.
In the coming weeks, volunteers from Americorps will arrive at Plymouth Notch for a four-week project. They will work on a hedgerow, clear foundations, start to rebuild the sugarhouse and move items from the permanent collection to proper storage making them more accessible. Bill Jenney will supervise all of this work.