Not long ago my boys and I stopped by Plymouth Notch, VT, to visit the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site.
For years I have traveled past the site on my way to my Dad’s house in Landgrove. When the kids were babies I used the parking lot for some emergency diaper changes and I’ve stopped there to stretch out my back while on motorbike rides. It’s been a good place to let the dog relieve herself. On one sloppy snowy day, it was a place to change a windshield wiper and add washer fluid. These visits were mostly after hours when the homestead was closed, and I’d never stopped when there was time for a real visit.
After so many years passing by but never really seeing this historic site, I recommended that my Dad, Josie, Wesley, Wyatt and I spend a Sunday morning digging into Silent Cal’s homestead and birthplace. So, on my last visit to Landgrove, with faint interest from Wesley and Wyatt, and more ardent appeal to my Dad and Josie, we did spend a Sunday earthing up history of our Vermont President.
The village of Plymouth Notch (the birthplace and boyhood home of Calvin Coolidge) is virtually unchanged since the early 20th century. Most of the houses are painted white and the barns are largely weathered wood. The content of the buildings, and descriptions of their construction and agricultural methods of the time, were much more interesting to me than the President himself. I was fascinated by the workings of the horizontal cheese press, the myriad examples of animal powered farm equipment, and the maple sugar barrels with the “sugar dogs” (for extracting the hardened sugar) attached to the top end of the barrel.
The barn attached to the Coolidge Homestead building had horse stalls on one end and I noticed what appeared to be “shoots” coming down from the hay loft of the barn. The area was roped off to visitors, and the volunteer tour guide was not sure what the shoots were for. She approached us a few minutes later to invite us” under the rope”,
while no one else was around, to inspect them for ourselves. There was one shoot coming down from the hayloft and ending in each manger. Each shoot had a small opening in the bottom. We think it was for hay so that less would be wasted. The horses would need to pull it out of the shoot as needed. The mangers in my own barn are open. When Zoe, my Percheron draft horse, is eating her hay quit a bit of it ends up under her front feet. When she realizes that she is in fact still hungry, she then eats it off the floor. These hay shoots may have well helped to keep more hay off the floor.
I think the boys’ favorite was The Plymouth Cheese Factory. This “factory” was built by the Coolidges and three other local farmers in 1890. It closed in 1930, reopened in 1960, and is still making great cheese today. And there are free samples in the gift shop. The boys found the second floor, which examines the story of cheese making in VT using old photos and original 1890 factory equipment, to be not quite as interesting as the samples.
I loved the old photographs hanging on the walls of many of the buildings. They were mostly of farming, and the faces of the local people, most lined with hard work, seemed both stern and maybe a little proud that the work they had just accomplished was being captured on film, where they might be remembered.
Our visit ended with lunch in the “Wilder House.” We were just finishing up when a thunderstorm struck. The rain came down hard as Wesley bolted for the cars’ rolled down windows. With coffee and iced-tea finished, and rain still coming down hard, we began to wonder if Wesley had gotten lost; turned out he’d been distracted by running into Abby and Barb, two friends of ours from the Cabot area. There was a bright flash of lightening, accompanied by a roar of thunder, and the power went out! Time to go home.
One last thought: when my friend Rollin takes passengers in his car over the Connecticut river on the Calvin Coolidge bridge in North Hampton MA, he says, “Be still while crossing this bridge”….some folks get it.