Tag Archive | National Historic Sites

Circus Trip 2018: Ulysses S. Grant NHS

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!

Circus Trip 2018: First Ladies NHS

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

After I left Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went down to Canton, Ohio and spent a little bit of time there.

Canton is where the family home of Ida Saxton McKinley is located, the wife of President William McKinley.  The home is beautiful!  It was built in 1841 by Ida’s grandfather and modified in 1865; and remained in the family until 1919.  Although Ida and William McKinley didn’t own the home themselves, as her father purchased a home for them a few blocks south, the President and his wife spent a considerable amount of time living here with Ida’s sister and her family, 13 years in total.

This historic site is unique, because although the home is tied to a US President, it focuses on the story of Ida McKinley, his wife.  She was born in 1847; the daughter of a wealthy banker, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  She and William McKinley were married in 1871, and had two daughters together; sadly, both died in early childhood.  Ida was grief-stricken over the loss of her daughters and the death of her mother, which had occurred two weeks before the birth of her first daughter.  She believed that the deaths were God’s punishment of her, and developed epilepsy, which severely hindered her ability to participate in society.  Despite her health issues, McKinley was devoted to her and made accommodations for her seizures and ailments in his schedule and public appearances.

 

 

Of course, you probably know that during a Presidential trip to Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz; he died of his wounds on September 14, after gangrene set in. Ida had accompanied her husband on the trip, but was not present at the shooting.  She held up well while McKinley fought to survive, but her health suffered even more afterwards.  She went back to the home in Canton where her sister Mary Barber and Mary’s family lived, and her sister cared for her until Ida’s death in 1907.  During that period, Ida largely spent her time in a rocking chair, crocheting slippers to give to her friends as gifts.  President McKinley, Ida and their two daughters are now interred in McKinley’s memorial monument in a nearby cemetery – an upcoming post!

 

 

The First Ladies National Historic Site is operated as a partnership between the National First Ladies Library, and the National Park Service.  There is a small visitor’s center in a nearby historic bank building and the home, which is open to the public on a tour.  The historic site has a movie about Ida Saxton McKinley and the role of First Ladies in general.  There was also an interesting exhibit on First Lady fashion, with featured dresses of several different first ladies in history.  It was interesting to see a perspective dedicated to the women who supported their husbands in their First Lady roles, as well as the women who took on their role for other family members, as not all First Ladies were spouses.

What a unique historic site!  I hope we will have a woman as President too, so we can see our first First Man!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Herbert Hoover Birthplace NHS

Day 19, Friday, August 3, 2018

Herbert Hoover isn’t a President I know much about.  In fact, I didn’t even know about the Herbert Hoover Birthplace National Historic Site, and kind of stumbled upon it by accident.  I saw the road sign as I was driving east after visiting the Amana Colonies and had enough time to stop before it closed for the day; I arrived just before 4pm.  What an unexpected treat!

Hoover was born to Quaker parents in a small two-room cottage in West Branch, Iowa on August 10, 1874.  He was orphaned at the age of nine, when his mother died at age 35 (his father had died in 1880 at the age of 34, when Herbert Hoover was 6).  He and his two siblings were split up after his mother’s death, each living in a different relative’s home; Hoover was sent to Oregon at the age of 11 to live with a maternal uncle and aunt.

The cottage where Herbert Hoover was born

The Herbert Hoover Birthplace NHS preserves the two-room cottage where Hoover was born, as well as several other sites significant to his early childhood.  His father’s Blacksmith Shop (rebuilt a little west of the original site), the Schoolhouse, and the Quaker Friends Meetinghouse, where the family worshiped, have all been preserved.  It is unknown if Hoover attended school in the actual building at the site, although it was being used as the primary school at the time Hoover was in school in West Branch, having been built in 1853.  The Blacksmith Shop was built in 1957, representing what such a shop would have been like in the 1870s.  Herbert Hoover’s older brother Theodore provided sketches of his recollection of his father’s shop as well.

The Friends Meetinghouse is original to the community where Hoover’s Quaker family worshiped; it was built in 1857.  The Quakers held two meetings each week to worship; men and women sat on different sides of a central partition.  They worship with “silent waiting,” a form of silent worship that does not use music or sacraments, or even a paid minister delivering a sermon.  When a Quaker is moved by the “inward light,” they stand and share their insight or prayers.  If you become known for your inspired insights, you become a “recorded minister” and are given a seat on the benches up front with the Quaker elders.  Herbert’s mother Hulda was considered a recorded minister.  Quakers believe in the equality of all people, a value that Hoover embodied when he was President and during his global humanitarian work.

The Quaker meetinghouse Hoover attended

 

The interior of the Quaker meetinghouse

The site also has a Visitor’s Center with a movie about Herbert Hoover and his life, and of course, stamps for my National Parks Passport.  There are also some later homes at the site; although they didn’t exist at the time that Hoover lived in West Branch, they add to the historic ambiance of the site.

A short drive away is Herbert Hoover’s grave site, along with the grave of his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.  Hoover died on October 20, 1964, at the age of 90.  He selected his grave site to look over his birthplace home, and chose a simple design of white marble, with a curved walkway and an American flag.  Lou Henry Hoover died in 1944 and was buried in Palo Alto, CA, but was re-interred here after Herbert Hoover died.  His Presidential Library is also there, although I didn’t have time to visit it that day.  I’ll have to return and learn more!

Herbert and Lou Hoover’s graves

 

The view from Hoover’s grave – his birthplace home

It was a fascinating stop!