When President Calvin Coolidge announced that he wanted a summer away from bugs, crowds, and Washington, D.C., South Dakota worked hard to bring him to the Black Hills. To start with, the State Legislature passed a resolution formally inviting the president that spared no praise for the region. When Senator Norbeck delivered the invitation, Coolidge responded, “Senator, I can’t tell whether this is a chapter from Revelations or Mohammed’s idea of the seventh heaven.” But, he came.
He brought with him his wife, Grace, and their son, John—and an entourage of staff members, secret service agents, political dignitaries, and journalists—and they made their home for the summer in the State Game Lodge and surrounding cabins. Excited South Dakotans turned out to see the President’s arrival at the railroad platform and presented him with a horse, a large-brimmed Western hat, and a pair of boots.
Originally slated to stay three weeks, the President extended his stay to three months. While Grace knit on the porch with their two border collies and her pet raccoon, the President mixed work with pleasure. On most weekday mornings the President maintained a local office at the high-school building in Rapid City, where he conducted his portion of the nation’s business. The Coolidges enjoyed frequent fishing trips and horseback riding in the surrounding forests, the hosting of distinguished visitors, and several official visits to local festivals and places of interest.
During his stay, Coolidge officially dedicated the inaugural work on the nearby carving of Mount Rushmore. He also issued the most famous pronouncement of his political career at the Rapid City high school: “I do not choose to run for President in nineteen twenty eight.”
After his visit, Sheep Mountain was renamed Mount Coolidge in his honor, and Squaw Creek became Grace Coolidge Creek after the First Lady. Hotel guests today can still stay in the very rooms once used by President Coolidge and his family.
In 1953, the Park was again home to a President. President Eisenhower, on a visit to the Black Hills for a speaking engagement, stayed in the State Game Lodge. The visit lasted only three days, but as an indication of how times had changed, it occasioned even greater preparations for the Lodge with tighter security, an extensive communications system, and a far bigger crowd of secret service agents, staff members, and reporters. Activities at the Lodge that week included several formal dinners and speeches, but Eisenhower also took the opportunity to spend as much time as he could fishing for trout in the pools of French Creek.