Featured

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

IMG_5646

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.

©2022

 

 

 

Featured

Route 66 – Missouri

While the title of our post is Route 66 – Missouri, we have covered the route stops we made in Kansas too. Kansas only has 14 miles of the route, but we didn’t want to leave it out. Enjoy the trip!

Americana at its best!

The Route

U.S. Highway 66, better known as Route 66, was the first paved highway to connect the Midwest to the West Coast. The highway runs 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, passing through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. After the creation of the first national highway system, construction on the road began in 1926.

Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 which led to the demise of many small towns and businesses whose survival depended on the road. Today the cities and states through which the old route passes preserve portions of the original road. Additionally, in 2001, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was established to help preserve historic places along the route. Administered by the National Park Service, the program collaborates with businesses, cities, and others by providing cost-share grants for restoration of some of the route’s icons.

Our kind of backroad. With the occasional farm, a few scattered houses, and a town once in a while, Route 66 through Missouri looked much like this.

Click here for a short National Park Service article on the history of Route 66.

Cuba, Missouri

The Missouri stretch of the Mother Road begins in St. Louis, or Joplin depending on which direction you’re going. However, our journey began in St. Louis, and we hopped on and off the route as we navigated our way through the city. Our first stop was in Cuba where we had lunch at Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q. The restaurant is not an original icon on the route, though with their delicious food it is undoubtedly a new one. Who doesn’t love a barbecue restaurant that has five different sauces on its tables along with cucumber and onion salad on their menu as a side?

Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q

Next door to Missouri Hick is the historic Wagon Wheel Motel which opened in 1936 as tourist cabins along with a gas station and cafe. Originally named Wagon Wheel Cabins, the motel was a popular stop on Route 66. During the mid 1940s the gas station and cafe were sold separately to other owners. A change of the name to Wagon Wheel Motel came with a change in ownership in 1947. In 2003, the motel was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and upon receiving grant assistance through the National Park Service, it was renovated in 2010. The Wagon Wheel still hosts overnight guests as the oldest continuously operated motel on Route 66. Today the gas station and cafe house a gift shop.

Route 66 icon – Wagon Wheel Motel
The Wagon Wheel Motel’s gas station and cafe

Navagating the Route

By the time we left Cuba, we had figured out how to travel the route using Google Maps. Even though we had three Route 66 guidebooks at our fingertips, Google turned out to be a better option for us. Google doesn’t show the route as a major highway, nor does it use the old road for trip planning. However, Route 66 is designated on Google Maps and can be seen by zooming in on the screen. Our trick was to ask Google for directions to the next town on the route and selecting the “avoid highways” option. This method worked very well for us though we did refer to the guidebooks at times. Sometimes the route dead ends, which requires getting on the interstate.

The Fanning Route 66 Outpost and General Store is located four miles west of Cuba, Missouri in the unincorporated community of Fanning.
The Route 66 Red Rocker sits next to the Fanning Route 66 Outpost and General Store.

Built in 2008 for the purpose of becoming the world’s largest rocking chair, this big guy actually claimed the Guiness Book of World Records title. However, a bigger rocking chair in Casey, Illinois took the title away in 2015. Renamed Route 66 Red Rocker, it is now touted as the biggest rocker on the route. The gigantic chair is 42 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and weighs in at 27,500 pounds.

Uranus

Yes, it’s a place. Yes, it’s a funny name. And yes, there’s a guy in Missouri who is laughing all the way to the bank! According to the guy, Louie Keen, who is the owner and mayor, Uranus is not a town it is a destination. We thought Uranus was the ultimate tourist trap, and we are (almost) ashamed to admit that we dropped a wad of cash there.

Uranus – good for some kicks on Route 66

The fudge factory does, in fact, have some of the best fudge we’ve ever tasted. We ended up leaving there with some of the chocolate-peanut butter, the cookies and creme, and Butterfinger flavors. All were sinfully delicious. Unfortunately, the gigantic gift shop attached to the fudge factory was out – yes, out – of Christmas ornaments. What tourist trap gift shop runs out of Christmas ornaments? Anyway, since ornaments are the only souvenirs that we ever buy, we had to settle for this car air freshener:

We’re almost afraid to open the package for fear of it smelling like an overly strong pine scented cleaning product. Maybe we will just leave it in its wrapper and find a place for it on the back of the tree.

Nope, definitely no false advertising here. There really is a Circus Sideshow Museum in Uranus, and at $6.00 per person… Well, let’s just say it was a deal for somebody, but not us. Though for those who’ve never seen a real merman or a two-headed baboon, it might be worth the money.

There’s even a jail in Uranus.

Moving on to Lebanon

Lebanon, Missouri was a nice place to stop for the night. While we did cruise Route 66 through the town, we didn’t find much in the way of nostalgic sights. Like so many cities on Route 66, old motels and gas stations that are now other businesses or in ruins are basically all that are left. We did, however, find a lovely city park that had murals and timelines depicting the city’s history and Route 66 heritage.

Mural in Boswell Park, Lebanon, Missouri

After being in the car all day, we were glad to have time to learn about the city and take a short stroll around the park’s pretty garden area.

After leaving the park, we headed to the most famous Route 66 icon in Lebanon: The Munger-Moss Motel. Nellie Draper Munger and her husband, Emmett Moss opened a cafe and filling station on the site 1945. In 1946, they added the motel which, under different ownership, still welcomes guests today.

Route 66 icon

Although the motel looks very nice, the vintage sign is what we fell in love with. With its mid-century style and bright colors, it brought back childhood vacation memories for both of us.

The neon sign was refurbished in 2010 with a grant share through the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it at night. Though we did get to eat dinner at a great restaurant, Brickhouse Grill, which serves classic American fare ranging from wings and burgers to steaks and seafood. The food and service were wonderful, creating a perfect ending to a long day on the route.

Carthage, Missouri

For those who might be wondering why we skipped Springfield, it’s because we chose to visit a couple of national park sites instead. Since we’re trying to visit all of them, national parks are always our first priority. After the second park, however, we got back on Route 66 at Carthage. Carthage has several notable Route 66 sites, but our mission was to see the Jasper County courthouse.

Jasper County courthouse

The Jasper County courthouse was built in 1894-1895 and is constructed of local Carthage marble This gorgeous building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Town square, Carthage, Missouri

While we were there, we took a stroll around the town square. Our walk led to learning about a Civil War battle that we had not heard of before. The Battle of Carthage took place right where we were in the town square on July 5, 1861.

From Carthage, we took Route 66 west to Joplin. There are some murals that we wanted to see there, but not much else with regard to nostalgia. However, we arrived in the 5:00 traffic, and by the time we got to our turn-off downtown, we found the streets blocked off for some sort of street fair. Of course, we were disappointed, but we decided to skip Joplin and drive on to Galena, Kansas.

Mural in Galena, Kansas

The Kansas Stretch

The Kansas stretch of Route 66 was only ever 14 miles long, but remarkably, 13 of them are still drivable. Our first stop was in Galena which is a delightful small town.

Cute Texaco gas station that is now a curio shop, but since it was early evening when we arrived, they were already closed.

Our camera battery died after the shot above, but that didn’t stop us. We drove through the charming little town that helped inspire the Pixar movie “Cars” and used our cell phones for photos. Another converted gas station, Cars on the Route, is a cafe and gift shop that features some of the characters from the movie. We didn’t see Lightning McQueen or Doc Hudson, but the place was fun to see and photograph.

Cars on the Route. We do love retro gas stations.
A replicated “Tow-Mater” at Cars on the Route
“Red” was the shy fire engine in the movie.

After Galena, we drove 12 miles to our next stop near Riverton, Kansas. Brush Creek Bridge is the only Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge remaining on Route 66 in Kansas. Two others were dismantled in the 1990s. The concrete bridge was built in 1923 and is still drivable! Also known as Rainbow Bridge, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Grant share funds helped make repairs to the bridge in 2005.

Rainbow Bridge

Thanks so much for joining us on Route 66 through Missouri (and Kansas)! Stay tuned for “More Kicks on Route 66” through Oklahoma which is coming soon.

Need more road trip inspiration? Check out these great destinations:

Bar Harbor, Maine

Abilene, Texas Road Trip: Things to Do

Death Valley National Park

 

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

Mike and Kellye

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.

©2022