Day 74, Thursday, September 27, 2018
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri
Just outside St. Louis, Missouri is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. This site, with its home called White Haven has a long history associated with President Ulysses S. Grant.
The home was built in 1808 (other sources say between 1812 and 1816), and the property was purchased in 1821 by Frederick Dent, who eventually became Ulysses S. Grant’s father-in-law. Dent built White Haven up as a fairly large plantation; it had 850 acres and grew wheat, oats, corn, potatoes and hay. They also had several varieties of orchard fruits, including peaches, apples, plums, apricots, nectarines and grapes. There were still extensive forests too.
Grant met his wife Julia in 1843, when he visited White Haven to visit his friend and classmate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who happened to be Julia’s brother Fred. At the time, Grant was stationed in the Army at Jefferson Barracks, only five miles south of White Haven. The two fell in love and eventually married in 1848. Although Grant struggled with the launch of his career and tried his hand at a number of failed ventures, the marriage was a happy one. Grant spent long periods of time away from Julia in their early marriage, when he went out West for his Army career. Julia stayed at White Haven with her family.
Grant suffered from a depressive episode and quit the Army and returned to White Haven from the West Coast in 1854. Between 1854 and 1859, he lived with Julia and the Dent family at White Haven, while farming, serving as an engineer, and dabbling in real estate in St. Louis. By all accounts, he was not a particularly successful man at this time. He did build Hardscrabble, a log cabin on the property with a name that was intentionally chosen to poke fun at the difficulty of their life then. In 1859, the Grants moved to St. Louis for a short period and then to Galena, Illinois for Grant to go into business with his brothers.
They never again lived at White Haven, but continued to own the property until shortly before Grant’s death. White Haven served as the home for the Dent and Grant families until 1885 (some sources say 1881), when Grant used it to pay off a debt to William Henry Vanderbilt.
What a fabulous place! This home was acquired by the National Park Service relatively late in the game; it became a National Historic Site in 1989. Thankfully, it was saved from becoming an amusement park in the early 1900s. Hardscrabble was acquired by the Busch family and became a part of the nearby Grant’s Farm theme park; I’ll have to go visit it sometime.
Today White Haven is in much the same condition as it was then; although an attached kitchen was added later by a caretaker of the property. A summer kitchen remains, which may have also been slave quarters, along with an ice house, chicken house, and a barn that was built in the 1870s. All are open to visit or peek into, and there are exhibits about Grant’s life and the Dent’s life on the plantation.
The exhibits don’t mince words; although historic accounts indicate that the Dents and Grant were most likely fairly kind slave owners overall, Julia seemingly was completely unaware of the hard work these men and women provided for the family. She spoke about the slaves being able to partake in all food products grown by the farm, as well as several types of meat and fish, without any recognition of the fact that these enslaved people had no freedom to directly benefit from their labors. Grant himself is known to have owned one slave during his time at White Haven and while working his Hardscrabble Farm. It is not known whether he purchased William Jones or if he received Jones as a gift; the historical record does show that he freed Jones in 1859.
Oh, and surely you have noticed the bright green paint on the house. Yes indeed, that paint color was selected by U.S. Grant and his wife Julia when they painted White Haven in 1874; it is called Paris Green. Do you love it or hate it?!?
And in unrelated news, I happened to have taken one of my favorite selfies here!
I enjoyed wandering around on the farm and seeing the buildings and exhibits. It was an informative visit!