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Preservation

07/03/07 12:00AM By Howard Coffin
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(HOST) Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and commentator Howard Coffin plans to spend the day in the historic town of Plymouth, where the 4th has special significance. Here's a preview of the speech he's preparing for the occasion.

(COFFIN) Standing by Calvin Coolidge's grave on his 135th birthday on the Fourth of July, I will deliver the Independence Day speech at Plymouth Notch.

I plan to talk about the Plymouth that is so perfectly preserved that were Coolidge to appear, he would instantly recognize this place of his childhood and of his swearing in as our 30th president.

I'll talk about preservation.

Plymouth's look of long ago is the result of a determined sixty year effort that has made most of its upland valley setting part of a state historic site. And Plymouth has been seriously threatened, once by a ski developer who hoped to cover East Mountain - the forested slope dominating the eastern horizon - with vacation homes. Today the notch is a scene from the bygone days of hill farm Vermont, all white clapboard buildings amid open fields below wooded slopes too steep to farm. In short, Plymouth Notch is what most of Vermont looked like fifty years ago.

Calvin Coolidge said, "To mark the location of historic events, to restore and preserve ancient habitations and buildings. . . it is all intensely American. It is done in the knowledge that where men have worked and wrought righteousness, there is holy ground."

Yet today, bulldozers rip, and paving machines roar, from sea to shining sea. Indeed, very much of America isn't beautiful anymore. But Plymouth is, thanks to the president's son John Coolidge, the State of Vermont, the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, and others.

A Boston reporter, attempting to understand the Coolidge political phenomena, discovered the Notch in 1920.

"It is an inspiring country in the majesty of the hills and the tremendous silence," he wrote. "...You forget everything except the mighty influence of primeval America. To go to Plymouth is to rediscover this country. If a boy born there has a strong mind, he must develop into a keen, careful thinker, and into a man who loves silence for the opportunity it gives for thought and who learns the uselessness of superfluous words. If I could take ten million thoughtful men through the town of Plymouth I would have ten million voters for Calvin Coolidge. He is like his country and his country is the essential soul of America."
Having read that, I will conclude by saying, "Let Plymouth be. Above all, let us ever be on guard... Here history happened. Here hill farm Vermont - the best that ever was of this state - lives on. Ever let it be."

Howard Coffin is an author and historian who's specialty is the civil war.

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