In the fall of 2005, Julie Bartlett, archivist at Forbes Library asked Coolidge Museum volunteer, Susan Well, to read through a housing file that was created in 1940 about where the President lived in Hampshire County, Massachusetts. Today on the eve of the publication of Well’s book, Calvin Coolidge: At Home in Northampton, the two women sat down to talk about how the project developed.

JB: Do you remember your first impressions of the file’s contents?

SW: Yes, it was clear that the material was compiled by Joseph Harrison, librarian of Forbes, from 1912 to 1950. The file contained fairly complete information on Coolidge’s early homes in the city as well as a list of his home and office addresses from the city directories beginning with the 1896/97 edition and ending with 1932.

Harrison started the file in 1940 when he and other local historians were puzzled. They knew that the City Directories showed Coolidge first living at 162 King Street with a shoemaker and his wife and then moving to Clarke School for the Deaf to room with its steward. A now well-respected biography was published that year, and its author said that Coolidge first lived at 63 Center Street and then moved to Clarke School. So first and foremost, Harrison was trying to find out if Coolidge lived on both King Street and Center Street, or if only one of the two, which one was it? Everyone, including Calvin and Grace, said that he lived with the steward at Clarke School.

JB: So you became a history detective. What did you find?

SW: One of the biggest surprises for me was that Coolidge was a bachelor for ten years. I think that’s a really long time to be single in Northampton. I concluded that he lived in all three homes between the fall of 1895 and October 1905 when he married Grace Goodhue.

JB: You just mentioned that Harrison’s research was good for the early homes. Was there information missing?

SW: For the Northampton homes, there was a two-page, double-spaced typed narrative that related conversations with the granddaughter of the shoemaker and a neighbor on Center Street. He mentioned two hotels – one that the Coolidges lived in for three weeks after their honeymoon and another that I was never able to fully confirm. There was information about the house they rented from a professor on sick leave for nine months, but little about Clarke School or Massasoit Street and does not mention The Beeches at all.

As for any missing information, I think Harrison would have been helped if he had consulted the 1895/96 City Directory and found Coolidge at 162 King Street. That fact coupled with the death of the shoemaker’s wife in June 1896 is strong evidence that it was the first of Coolidge’s city homes.