Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

About the site

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site preserves the history of White Haven, the 200-year-old estate that was once home to Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Dent Grant. The park is located at 7400 Grant Road, St. Louis, Missouri.

The house was painted Paris Green in 1874 during Grant’s presidency and was repainted the same color during its restoration in the 1990s. The red buildings behind the house are the icehouse and chicken coop. We only took a couple of non-post-worthy pictures inside the house because our guide, Ranger Evan, was extremely interesting to listen to as she led us through the property.

Highlights of the park include:

  • Visitor center and gift shop/bookstore
  • Introductory film
  • Museum
  • Self-guided walk through the grounds
  • Self-guided tour featuring the historic trees on the property
  • Ranger-led tours of the house
  • Junior Ranger programs
  • John Y. Simon Research Library – by appointment only

The park’s website link: Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

Importance of the historic site

Ulysses S. Grant was not only the victorious commanding general of the Union Army during the Civil War, but he was also the 18th President of the United States. Grant served two terms as president from 1869 – 1877. His wife and First Lady, Julia Dent Grant spent her childhood at White Haven. Her father, Frederick Dent, who was a successful merchant and land speculator, purchased White Haven in 1820 as a country get away from the family’s city home in St. Louis. It is hard to imagine today that the family’s second home was only twelve miles from their primary residence.

Historic photo, White Haven, circa 1860
Another view of the house that we almost matched to the historic image above. The white structure behind the house is a kitchen and laundry.

Ulysses and Julia at White Haven

Ulysses met Julia in 1843 when he visited White Haven with his former West Point roommate who happened to be her older brother, Fred. After courting for only four months, Julia accepted Ulysses’ proposal, which they kept secret for over a year. However, due to the outbreak of the Mexican-American War they wouldn’t marry until 1848. Ulysses served in the U.S. Army for eleven years prior to resigning and joining his wife at White Haven in 1854 to try farming. He built a cabin on an 80-acre plot that Julia’s father had given the couple as a wedding gift, and they named the property Hardscrabble. While Grant owned one enslaved worker, a man named William Jones who had been given to him by Julia’s father, he also hired free men to work on the farm.

Hardscrabble – photo from the Library of Congress. The Grants lived in this cabin for only three months. Upon the death of her mother, Julia’s father asked her, Ulysses, and their two children to live in his White Haven home with him. They never returned to Hardscrabble. The cabin can now be seen at the family amusement venue, Grant’s Farm, which is next door to the historic site.

Grant’s Pre-Civil War Years

By 1858 Grant, now with four children, was unable to support the family by farming, but instead of selling his one slave to make money he freed the man. Slavery was a topic on which he and his father-in-law greatly differed, as Frederick Dent’s White Haven was a slave plantation. Nonetheless, after failing at farming and on the verge of being penniless, Grant leased Hardscrabble and moved his family to St. Louis where he began a real estate venture. Unfortunately, real estate was not a successful career either, so he moved his family to Galena, Illinois and went to work in his family’s leather goods business. During this time Frederick Dent lost much of White Haven to foreclosure. He also began deeding acreages to his children. Then in December of 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. By February 1861, six other states had seceded and had formed the Confederate States of America. The Civil War had begun.

This view of the back of the house shows the kitchen and laundry that was separate from the house.

Grant’s Civil War Years

After the war began, the governor of Illinois appointed Grant to lead a regiment of volunteers. Grant was so successful in training the men and gaining their respect that President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to Brigadier General. As the war continued, Lincoln became displeased with the North’s military leadership. Therefore, in March of 1864, Lincoln appointed Grant General-in-Chief of the U. S. Army, a rank that had only ever been held by George Washington. Over the following year Grant, who sometimes joined his subordinates in battle, successfully led the North to victory. Despite heavy casualties, he settled for nothing less than unconditional and immediate surrenders, which earned him the nickname, “Unconditional Surrender Grant”. The war ended on April 9, 1865, with the South’s General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Grant at Virginia’s Appomattox Courthouse.

Lee surrenders to Grant – Library of Congress image

Grant’s Post-Civil War Years

After the war, President Andrew Johnson appointed Grant Secretary of War of the reconstructing nation. During and after the war the Grants had purchased White Haven from Julia’s siblings and father and regained Hardscrabble. In 1868, Grant was elected President of the United States, having won against incumbent Andrew Johnson. The Grants moved into the White House in 1869 and hired Ulysses’ cousin’s husband to manage the farm at White Haven. By this time, Dent’s former enslaved workers had left, and French and German immigrants were hired as laborers. Grant had a barn and stables built at White Haven and began buying horses. The Grants visited White Haven as often as possible and planned to spend their retirement years there. However, the farming and livestock operation failed to make money, so in 1875, Grant sold White Haven’s assets and leased out the property. They would never return.

This stable housed Grant’s thoroughbreds. Today it houses the park’s museum.

Trivia: General Grant and Julia had been invited to join President Lincoln and the First Lady in the balcony of Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865, the night the President was assassinated. However, the Grants had declined the invitation due to Julia wanting to visit relatives in New Jersey.

Ulysses S. Grant standing next to his wife Julia Dent Grant, who is sitting
Ulysses and Julia in 1864 or 1865 – National Park Service photo.

Grant’s Post-Presidency Years

Julia had wanted her husband to run for a third presidential term, but he refused by publicly renouncing his interest. The former President and First Lady set off on a two-year world tour, fulfilling Grant’s lifelong dream of travel.  Upon their return to the U.S., he sought to win the Republican nomination for president in the 1880 election, but the party chose James A. Garfield as their candidate. Ulysses and Julia settled in New York to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer in the summer of 1884. Early in 1885, the former president began writing his memoirs. Three months before his death, Grant found that he had lost his fortune to an investment scam perpetrated by his son Jesse’s business partner. Because of the swindle, the Grants also lost White Haven. He completed his memoirs just three days before his death on July 23, 1885.

Ulysses S. Grant

Museum Exhibits

Click on an image to view as a gallery.

The Grant Family: Nellie, Ulysses, Jesse, Frederick, Julia, and Ulysses, Jr.

Trivia: Ulysses S. Grant is not the former president’s actual name. His given name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. However, when his congressman submitted Ulysses’ application to West Point, he mistakenly wrote down Ulysses Simpson Grant, Simpson having been Ulysses’ mother’s maiden name. After attempting to correct the mistake at West Point to no avail, Ulysses finally gave up and signed his name as Ulysses S. Grant. The name would follow him throughout the rest of his life and into history.

Thank you so much for joining us on our visit to Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. We learned a lot during our visit, and we hope you did too.

Want to learn about other American presidents? Click on these great parks:

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Eisenhower National Historic Site

Monticello

Travel safely, and we will see you on the road.

Mike & Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

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27 thoughts on “Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

  1. A fascinating read, Kellye. Grant’s life was full of ups and downs. It was great to get to know the man behind the famous name. White Haven house with its Paris Green facade is lovely. I love all the trivia details about Lincoln’s assassination and Grant’s actual name. I guess bureaucracy has always been hard to navigate. What a sad ending to his life – losing all of his fortune to a fraud.

      1. You know Facebook wouldn’t accept our post on our One for the Money page. They said it didn’t meet their standards because it favored a political candidate (150 years ago!) and had discriminatory overtones, which is absolutely untrue. We had to ask for three reviews before they would finally allow it. Thanks so much for reading our post and for your lovely comment!

  2. Very interesting post. I had no idea the Grants almost wound up in Lincoln’s box that day. I also did not know Grant had lost his fortune before he passed. The background about his name – who would have guessed that story? Great tour of the site as well.

  3. I really like the personal touches. Like he went with his wife to visit relatives and wasn’t on the balcony when the president was shot, and travelled instead of being president again… these little details make these people more personable.

  4. This national historic site is right in our own back yard. We have visited a couple of times, and after reading your post, I want to go back again! Once the site offered a “Bike with History” program where we rode bikes along the trail and heard stories of Grant. It was fascinating! When I was growing up, I remember reading about efforts to save “White Haven” and the decision to paint the house green. I also think they found a letter – maybe from Lincoln – in the house when restoring it. I love learning about past presidents. It sounds like you really enjoyed your visit, and I am very glad. Thank you for your post!

  5. I learned so much about Grant I feel like I was on the tour. Who would have ever thought that his name came from a mistake on his recommendation to West Point? It is fortunate that the property was maintained so well after Grant lost it due to fraud. Thanks for the very educational post.

  6. Really fascinating read on this American icon! I actually love that he decided to go by Ulysses because it feels like the epic hero of the Odyssey which probably rings true in a lot of ways in his military career. I also really love the comment about success never going to his head and failures never defeating him. That is a powerful ethos to live by.

  7. GREAT photos and information! Ulysses was someone that I learned a lot about in school many years ago. I love going to history museums and seeing all of the older ways of life etc. This is fascinating, thank you!

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