Go See Grant in St. Louis

 

Go see Ulysses S. Grant in St. Louis, Missouri.  Grant’s White Haven estate is situated on ten wooded acres in suburban neighborhoods just outside of downtown St. Louis. This is the place where Ulysses and Julia raised their family from 1854-59, a time after the Mexican War and before the outbreak of the Civil War.

 

HOW DID GRANT END UP IN STL?

In the 1800s, St. Louis was a thriving southern city on the Mighty Mississippi, bustling with riverboats, industry, and settlers heading west.  The city was also home to Jefferson Barracks, a large military post where Grant was stationed after graduating from West Point.  It was from here that he met Julia at an officers’ party in 1844.

Cool historical sidenote: Jefferson Barracks is a National Cemetery and home to the excellent Missouri Civil War Museum.  Definitely worth a visit.

 

WHAT IS WHITE HAVEN?

White Haven is a southern plantation. The mansion was built from 1812-16, and acquired by “Colonel” Frederick Dent (Julia’s father) in 1820.  Dent turned the 850 acre property into a plantation with orchards, open fields, and wooded areas.  Dent would eventually own at least thirty enslaved people.  Frederick Dent considered himself a Southern gentleman, and Julia grew up at White Haven in the style of a young, upper class Southern woman.

 

The front porch of White Haven, the place where Ulysses proposed to Julia

Grant and Julia married in 1848, and the couple returned to White Haven in 1854, after Grant’s resignation from the army.  A few years later, Grant decided to build his own house, about a half mile away from White Haven.  The Grants named it Hardscrabble, and you can still see it today at Grant’s Farm, the Anheuser-Busch family fun park located down the road from the U.S. Grant National Historic Site.

Edutainment sidenote: Grant’s Farm is home to a lot of interesting animals, including the the Budweiser Clydesdales.  Park admission is free, but parking is $13.  The park was crowded, but our kids loved it.  Plus, each adult received two free adult beverages inside the park.

 

Grant’s Hardscrabble, from a 1950s Grant’s Farm postcard. Image courtesy of Grant’s Farm

 

Grant & Slavery

Grant lived right in the middle of the national debate on slavery.  In fact, our Park Ranger, Nick, said that Ulysses and Frederick would often argue about the issue of slavery at the dinner table.  Although he may have disagreed with slavery morally, Grant did indeed benefit from a lifestyle supported by enslaved people.  It seems historically ironic that the Hero of Appomattox lived on a slave plantation and owned one enslaved person named William Jones.  In fact, Grant was the last president who was a slave owner.

White Haven’s basement winter kitchen, where enslaved people prepared the Grants’ food. Some people lived and worked here during the winter months.

 

THE BARN MUSEUM

After you walk through the White Haven mansion, you’ll see the summer kitchen, chicken house, and ice house.  Our kids found it interesting that the Grants needed a whole house for ice.  Ah, a world without refrigeration and air conditioning: truly frightening.

Take a left from White Haven’s back porch, and you’ll see a large red barn.  This is home to the site’s museum.  Let’s take a look inside.

The barn at White Haven, home of the site’s museum.

 

The U.S. Grant Historic Site was established as a national park site in 1990.  The interpretive museum opened in 2007, so it has a newer look and feel.  The museum’s layout is circular, so you’ll find yourself meandering through the exhibits, soaking in history about the Grants, the Dents, and the enslaved families of White Haven.  Here are a few interesting artifacts that we encountered.

The Grant museum in the barn

 

Ulysses S. Grant Congressional Medal, made in honor of Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, 1863.  This is a bronze duplicate.  Grant’s original gold medal is at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

 

Grant’s Lieutenant-General shoulder strap.  In 1864, Lincoln promoted Grant to Lieutenant General after his victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga.

 

Ulysses S. Grant Indian Peace Medal, 1871

 

WHY IS WHITE HAVEN PAINTED GREEN?

White Haven is painted in Paris Green.

You can’t go to Grant’s White Haven without wondering, “Why is the house painted green?”  Nick, our park ranger, mentioned that this is one of the most frequently asked questions from visitors.  The Dent family named their estate, White Haven, after a previous family home in England. But what color was the house when Grant lived there?  After some historical investigation, the park confirmed that Grant had the house painted Paris Green, a popular color for houses in the 1870s.

GOODBYE, FROM GRANT’S HOME

We had a great time at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  We enjoyed walking the grounds, seeing White Haven, and watching the 20 minute introductory film.  Above all, we saw U.S. Grant in a different light.  At White Haven, you don’t see Grant the General as much as you see Grant the Farmer.  The site does a very good job of presenting this side of Grant, and it doesn’t shy away from discussing Grant and slavery.  This place is definitely worth a visit if you’re in St. Louis.  So, go see a Cardinals game.  Go to the zoo.  Then, go see Grant.

PARK INFO

  • 7400 Grant Road, St. Louis, MO 63123
  • (314) 842-1867
  • NPS website
That pretty much sums it up for us.