The history of the Hotel Coolidge and that of the railroad in the Upper Connecticut River Valley are inextricably linked. Indeed, it was the advent of railway service that originally created the need for hotel accommodations in White River Junction.
The Central Vermont Railway laid the first rails in early 1847 and, by the following year, the line stretched 25 miles north to Bethel. On June 26, 1848, Vermont's first passenger train began service between White River Junction and Bethel, and by 1849, the line extended 90 miles north to Burlington and 15 miles south to Windsor. The success of the Central Vermont from Burlington to Windsor prompted the rapid addition of other lines to this area, and soon White River became the most important junction in Northern New England.
1849 Brings the First Hotel
Colonel Sam Nutt, a successful riverboat captain, recognized the need created by the railways for first-class hotel accommodations in White River Junction. In 1849, he retired from the river, purchased the Grafton House in Enfield, NH (some 20 miles to the east), had it transported to White River Junction, and after a period of reconstruction, opened the Junction House. Colonel Nutt operated the Junction House for ten years before selling it to the Barrons family in 1859. Soon after acquiring it, the Barrons bought another hotel and had it moved and united with the original structure. When this combined hotel was destroyed by fire in 1878, its loss was regarded as "the natural sequence of the unrestricted looseness that characterized his (the senior proprietor's) system of running the Public House."
From the 19th to the 20th Centuries
By the end of 1879, a new structure containing 200 rooms had been rebuilt and sold. Under the stewardship of Ballard and Andrews, the hotel's new owners, the Junction House soon became noted for its fine service and hospitality. At the turn of the century, no less than five railways served White River, generating business from 50 daily passenger trains and vast freight traffic. At that time, the Junction House hosted heroes' welcomes, fairs, and served the performers from the Gates Opera House that was located next door. Records indicate that during this period the hotel accommodated more than 38,000 guests per year, prompting local wags to maintain the "the beds never cool down at the Junction House." In the winter of 1920, the hotel numbered among its guests the silent movie star Lillian Gish and the famous director D.W. Griffith. Miss Gish and Mr. Griffith had come to Vermont in order to film the ice scenes for "Way Down East."
Renamed in 1924
Its then-owner Colonel Wheeler chose the name Hotel Coolidge in honor of his close friend Colonel John Calvin Coolidge. The father of President Calvin Coolidge, Colonel Coolidge was a frequent guest of the hotel, and his picture still hangs in the lobby, sternly surveying passersby. President Coolidge himself stayed on the first floor in Parlor Room A, preferring by reason of superstition to occupy an unnumbered room.
While changes in structure have been an intricate part of its history, the present Hotel is essentially that which resulted from a major reconstruction carried out in 1925. (Photo shows hotel in 1927.) A comprehensive and extensive sprinkler system was installed in the 1930s, , making the Coolidge one of the safest hotels anywhere. In 1950, artist Peter Michael Gish called the Coolidge home. In exchange for room and board, he painted the murals in the Vermont Room and the Cocktail Lounge. The late fifties saw the inauguration of the Coolidge dining Room's tradition of providing excellent American and Continental fare in a formal dining atmosphere. Though the dining room personnel are still uniformed and the tables covered in the whitest of linens, today's patrons may dress informally while enjoying complete dinners at prices that are most affordable. In more recent years, a program of renovation and consolidation on the sleeping floors has resulted in the Hotel's ability to offer, among its 96 clean, renovated rooms, enough variety to accommodate individual preferences and needs at attractively affordable rates. And, as it has since 1849, the Hotel continues to accommodate passengers and crews from the trains that serve the Upper Valley. Whether seeking lodging for a night, a weekend, a week or a month, a satisfying meal in the Coolidge dining Room, an hour or an evening of relaxation in the cocktail lounge, guests find that the Hotel Coolidge, a landmark in White River Junction, offers the warmth and charm of a rich past together with up-to-date conveience and reliability.