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.
Highlights of the park include:
- Visitor center and gift shop/bookstore
- Introductory film
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click on an image to view as a gallery.
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
Travel safely, and we will see you on the road.
Mike & 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.