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July 3, 2011

Humble start noted in visit to former president's homestead

Homestead retains story of President Coolidge's simple Vermont lifestyle

Only one American president was born on the Fourth of July, and it's one whose persona would likely be least in keeping with fireworks and tumultuous celebration.

Here's a clue: He's one of two chief executives born in Vermont. (You get extra credit if, after reading this article, you guess the second.)

Calvin Coolidge came into the world on July 4, 1872, in the bedroom of the family homestead in Plymouth Junction. Fifty-one years later, in the house across the street, he took the oath of office as president of the United States. The setting today hasn't changed very much from its appearance of those earlier times.

FROM THE START

Vermont preserves the place as a State Historic Site. A new Visitor Center, opened just last year, welcomes one with an introductory exhibit. Items on display include the dinner jacket from his second inaugural in 1925, the Bible on which he swore the oath of office and the chair he used at cabinet meetings. In addition, a video presentation outlines the essentials of his biography.

Americans like to idealize their heroes, but Calvin's tale seems to require little adornment. His father, John, whose family first settled in the area in 1780, farmed, ran a store and served as a justice of the peace in this tiny hamlet. Calvin began his education in a one-room schoolhouse. When it came time for high school, he went to Black River Academy, walking 12 miles each Sunday to get there, and then coming back to the farm on Fridays. A degree from Amherst College followed.

His political career began with a loss in a school-board election. From that defeat, the trajectory climbed continually upward: mayor of Northampton, Mass.; state legislator; two terms as governor of the state; selection as the vice-presidential nominee on a ticket headed by Ohioan Warren G. Harding.

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