Presidential Portfolio: Ulysses S. Grant (#18)
While Ulysses S. Grant is one of the presidents with a high amount of name recognition,, the rest of his life seems to be a mostly obscure, save for a few comments about his relationship with Lincoln/the Civil War and a notoriously corrupt Cabinet and circle of administration advisors.
Yet, with the resurgence of interest in the Civil War due to the paradigm shift regarding the statues and the new doorstop of a biography by Ron Chernow (of Hamilton fame), Grant’s time may have finally come for some newfound interest.
Birthplace (Point Pleasant, OH) – Walking into the Grant birthplace, we were immediately drawn into a conversation with a passionate man that we assumed was the tour guide. Turns out he lives up the road and came down for chat during a break in mowing his lawn. The locals are nothing if not friendly and proud of their connection to our eighteenth president. Located in the small town of Point Pleasant, Ohio, the cottage made its way around the county and faced a few obstacles before it finally settled back where it belongs. The little cottage does, miraculously, have a few original Grant pieces and acts as a good visual representation for the beginning of Grant’s story.
Boyhood Home and School (Georgetown, OH) – About thirty minutes from Point Pleasant, Georgetown, Ohio boats that Grant lived there longer than anywhere else throughout his life. Contrasting the Birthplace to the Boyhood Home shows how the Grant’s were rising in both economic and social circles of the time. Admission gets you access to both the Home and the Scool, however, the School does have a different operating season, so plan accordingly if you are set on seeing both. (The School was closed during our visit, so we drove by, read the outdoor signage and took the picture below.)
Grant Cabin (St. Louis, MO) – Grant built this cabin, known as Hardscrabble, on land that his in-laws gave him and his new wife, Julia Dent. Conveniently, the land was right down the road from their plantation, known as White Haven. Life at the cabin didn’t last long and soon the newlyweds moved in with her parents. The cabin is now part of ‘Grant’s Farm’ which is a cross between a zoo and family attraction owned by Anheuser-Busch. Due to the cost of parking (and, let’s be honest, the number of children that I did not want to deal with), we skipped the Cabin and went directly Dent Plantation down the street.
Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site (St. Louis, MO) – Owned by the National Park Service, the Grants moved into this home after Julia’s mother’s death, ten years after they had initially met when Fred Dent brought his friend Ulysses to visit. Even though they moved out a few years later, this house offers a stunning portrait of a family divided by the politics of the time. The Dents were a slave holding family and had slaves when the Grants moved in. Grant had hoped to one day retire to White Haven, but was forced to sell it before retirement ever came.
Grant Cottage (Wilton, NY) – If you’re not already having trouble tracking the many places Grant lived, then let’s add another to the mix. Towards the end of his life, the Grants were living in New York. Sick and poor, Grant’s last hope was to write his memoirs to try to leave some sort of financial legacy for his family. Invited by own Joseph Drexel and aided by publisher Mark Twain, Grant retreated to the mountain air of Wilton, NY to race time as he tried to complete his memoirs. With memoirs finally finished, Grant passed away in the bed in the cottage’s front room and the house was preserved exactly as it was when he died. The care and authenticity of this site make it the must see site of this list.
Grant’s Tomb (New York, NYC) – After Grant’s death in Wilton, it was decided that he would be buried in New York, so Julia could be interred beside him. The tomb was built with contributions collected from the largest public fundraising effort at that time and is the largest mausoleum in North America. The granite and marble gives the building a neoclassical feel and proves the important place that Grant held in the society at the time. Also, if you’re wondering, both Grant and Julia are laid to rest here. The question “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” has nothing to do with where they are, but the fact they are in sarcophagi, which means they are technically entombed and not buried. Apparently Groucho Marx, who made this riddle famous, gave out prizes for the answer ‘no one’ or ‘Grant’.
*Appomattox Court House (Appomattox, VA) – Grant’s general military career and time serving in the Union Army could be its own tour crisscrossing the United States. In my opinion, the most important military site has to be Appomattox Court House where Grant accepted Lee’s surrender. With a great visitors center and plenty of buildings to explore, the events that occurred in this little town irrevocably shaped the future of the United States.