A Brief History of Calvin Coolidge’s Time in the Black Hills
When you think of United States Presidents and the beautiful Black Hills, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln likely come to mind thanks to our pride and joy, Mount Rushmore. While these Presidents inarguably shaped American history, many fail to recognize the many Presidents who have actually spent leisurely time in the Hills.
The list is longer than you might expect and includes William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump! But one President in particular had a special connection to the Hills unlike the others. What President is that you may ask? It’s America’s 30th President Calvin Coolidge!
While many U.S. Presidents spend their down time in their hometowns, Calvin Coolidge chose to head west and spend an entire summer in the Black Hills with his family members Grace (wife), Calvin Jr. (son), and pet raccoon Rebecca, in the fourth year of his presidency! Known for his love of fishing, riding, and enjoying time outdoors with his family, Calvin Coolidge decided to establish a summer White House in the Black Hills. While this “summer White House” is now known as the State Game Lodge, it’s seen some exciting moments in presidential history.
According to our friends at WhiteHouseHistory.org, 32 miles of gravel were laid from Rapid City to Custer State Park to ensure President Coolidge could have a safe and easy route to his new White House. In order for President Coolidge to carry out his presidential duties South Dakota, the White House team needed to find an appropriate location for temporary White House offices. Utilizing Rapid City High School, now known as the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City, President Coolidge’s plans to spend the summer of 1927 in South Dakota were in full swing.
With offices established in Rapid City, the President would be able to carry out all of his presidential duties while enjoying the lush scenery and adventure that the Black Hills has to offer. By the time the Coolidge family arrived in the Black Hills in 1927, the entire state of South Dakota was elated to welcome America’s first family to their new summer White House which had recently wrapped up construction in Custer State Park.
Over the summer, Calvin Coolidge enjoyed unparalleled opportunities to rest and recharge as he was beginning to near the end of his presidential term. He spent time exploring the area and fishing in a nearby creek, which is now known as Grace Coolidge Creek, hoping to catch as many trout as he could. Enjoying a great deal of opportunities to celebrate his time in the hills with those in local communities, as well as with the Sioux tribe, Calvin Coolidge enjoyed the lowkey lifestyle he had adopted.
While Calvin Coolidge’s summer in the Black Hills was gone before he knew it, he had something important to do before he left the Hills. Something which many did not see coming: Announce that he would not be running for re-election in 1928. Bogged down by the constant uncertainty facing the nation and its unavoidable toll, Calvin Coolidge made his formal announcement in July of 1927.
As the remainder of his time in the Hills was dwindling, President Coolidge made the most of what was left of his stay by enjoying time with his family and attending numerous ceremonies including the dedication of Mount Rushmore. Soon enough, the Coolidges left South Dakota to head back to Washington D.C., but not before visiting Yellowstone National Park in neighboring Wyoming.
Calvin Coolidge’s legacy continues to live on in the Black Hills, especially in Custer State Park. Here at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, SD, tourists and locals alike can learn more about Coolidge’s time in South Dakota.
Interested in learning more about presidential history? Come see us on your next Black Hills vacation! We’ll be happy to share even more about information about Calvin Coolidge and our nation’s Presidents. You can learn more about tours here or even buy tickets online.