Essays, Papers & Addresses

Grace Coolidge & July 4th

Cyndy Bittinger
Former Executive Director, Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation

Editor’s Note: This article was written for the Rutland Herald and appeared June 12, 2006. Cyndy Bittinger is the author of the book, Grace Coolidge, Sudden Star.

Plymouth: a Gate of Heaven

“As he grows older I think he will turn more and more to these peaceful hills (of Plymouth, Vermont.) It is in the Coolidge blood and I think you will all agree that where he leads I follow.” Grace Coolidge was commenting on life after the White House in 1930 when she and her husband were spending time in Plymouth and building an addition to the homestead. In retirement, Calvin Coolidge did have a plan. He and Grace would live in Northampton, MA most of the year and summer in Plymouth. The homestead would be modernized so that they could stay for an extended time in the house and village. “The lean-to, as Mr. Coolidge has called the new wing, in referring to it, is far from complete, as far as furnishings go, but there is everything essential…” Grace wrote, “Across the front is one long living room, paneled on the window side with book shelves from floor to ceiling on the other three sides with a large brick fireplace opposite the door. Back of this are our bedrooms and a bathroom and linen closet across the end in a screened porch..” Today, most tourists do not know about this addition to the homestead since it was removed after Calvin’s death and taken over to the next hill as the library for the home of John Coolidge, the president’s son.

Plymouth was home to Calvin and to be very important to Grace and their son John. Grace and Calvin had always encouraged John to visit his grandfather over the years, and then when he married, to visit every summer. “Of course it will be quiet, with no other young people around, but the air is good, the food fair-to-middling! Sleeping excellent and a welcome as deep and wide as the universe,” she penned to her son and daughter-in-law in 1932. In 1934, she made sure she was there to witness the fly over by Col. Lindbergh. Grace was inspired at Plymouth and wrote, “As the dusk deepens into night and the moon shines across the meadows and against the hills, there is a glory over it all which causeth the spirit within to take flight and approach almost to the gate of heaven…”

Grace also noticed that people wanted to visit Plymouth to connect with the legacy of her husband. “I am convinced that there is something here for which people are hungrily searching and I trust that some arrangement may be made where by they may find inspiration and take away a measure of the strength and courage which our men and women of the past who have lived here have found to be sufficient to their needs. To this end I am prepared to co-operate in every way possible…”she pondered in 1934. People should be allowed to see the part of the house where her husband was sworn in as president in 1923, she concluded. She began to arrange for the State of Vermont to receive the homestead of the Coolidge family.

Grace Coolidge died in 1957 and was buried next to her husband and son Calvin, Jr. in the Plymouth cemetery. Her son John continued to acquire land and buildings in an effort to preserve this rural 19th century village in the heart of Vermont. This year, as in the past, the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation will greet the Vermont National Guard in its official capacity carrying a wreath sent from the White House to be placed at the grave of Calvin Coolidge, the only U.S. president born on July 4th. Townspeople and tourists will walk behind the guard at 12 noon on July 4th. I encourage visitors to remember the role that Vermonter Grace Coolidge had in saving this town, as she felt it to be a place “ almost to the gate of heaven.”