(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the National Park Service facilities in Missouri. During 2016, the National Park Service will observe 100 years of stewardship of America’s national parks and other sites. This series will focus on those facilities in the Show-Me State.)
Before Ulysses Grant led men into battle during the Civil War, and before he led the nation from the White House, he called Missouri “home” and a significant portion of his adult life was spent in the Show-Me State.
Grant was born in Ohio. His father was a tanner, and young Ulysses helped with the family farm and his father’s business. He obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, and entered the fabled military school in New York State.
Grant didn’t necessarily have the brightest star as a cadet at the Academy. With mediocre grades, he received demerits for slovenly dress and tardiness.
But he apparently did well in mathematics and excelled in horsemanship. Grant graduated from West Point in 1843, 21st in a class of 39 cadets.
According to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, one of Grant’s roommates at West Point was Frederick Dent from St. Louis. So when the two young officers were assigned to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Dent had plans for his friend.
Grant accompanied Dent to his family home, White Haven. It was at Dent’s boyhood home that Grant met Frederick Dent’s younger sister, Julia. And, at White Haven, a young Ulysses asked Julia for her hand in marriage – just before Ulysses left St. Louis for the Mexican War. The two were married four years later.
Their marriage was marked by love, trust and respect. They were married for 37 years. The Army would reassign Grant often, but Julia would try to accompany when she could. But the times they were apart, were times Grant would grow frustrated and lonely; he longed for his family and home in Missouri.
White Haven is today set back in a gentle hillside, and surrounded by a grove of trees. The Park Service conducted a Tree Inventory at the White Haven sight earlier in 2015. Many trees on the site were found to date back to Grant’s days on the farm, including some Ginko trees, and trees believed to have been planted during Grant’s presidency.
The home is painted a shade of green – which was a popular color for home in the years following Grant’s time in the White House. A porch runs along the front of the house, and two large rooms are on either side of the front entryway. The room on the right is said to be were Grant proposed marriage to Julia.
Few furnishings are in the home today. The fireplaces are in the large rooms, and the stove is in what would be the summer kitchen. Few other pieces remain.
But this was the home Grant longed for at the end of the Civil War. After long years of battle, Grant told a friend he was “looking forward longingly to the time when we can end this war and I can settle down on my St. Louis farm and raise horses.”
After the war, he did spend time on the farm, and by 1866 the Park Service reports Grant owned 750 acres of land. The farm is about 10 miles from today’s Downtown St. Louis.
Grant was elected president in 1868, and toward the end of their time in the White House, Grant was again thinking of his St. Louis home. He had a new barn built on the farm for the horses he hoped to raise, and even worked with the Pacific Railroad, so that a new rail line from downtown would run just feet from the newly constructed barn.
Today, there are no railroad tracks. The tracks have been removed and there is a new trail – Grant’s Trail. Walkers, runners and bicyclists use this wonderful 8-mile recreation trail. The trail is just a few feet from the entrance to the Historic Site and close also to the entrance to Grant’s Farm recreational site. The trail runs through several neighborhoods and wooded areas, as well as part of the pasture for the world-famous Clydesdale horses.
The National Park Service has a handicapped accessible Visitor Center which connects to Grant’s barn. The barn has been converted and is a wonderful museum, examining the Grants’ lives and their family, and Grant’s time in the military and White House. The Visitor Center has a gift shop and book store, rest room facilities, and a small theater where a film on the Grants and White Haven is shown throughout the day.
The Grant National Historic Site is free and there is a parking lot. The site has a number of acres and beautiful trees, and walking trails.
Grant’s Farm, owned by the Anheuer-Busch Brewing Company, is across the road from the National Historic Site.
Grant built his first family home and called it “Hardscrabble.” The home was on display in today’s Forest Park during the 1903 World’s Fair. After remaining at the park after the fair, August Busch Sr., saved the home and had it moved to his property in south St. Louis.
The company now operates the park, which includes tram rides through an animal reserve featuring more than 900 animals. Admission to the park is free as is the tram ride through the animal park and parts of the park; there is a $12 parking fee.
In addition, there are added features visitors may opt to do – including feeding animals and special Clydesdale tours – that do need a purchased ticket. A Bauernhof area of the farm features the Busch family’s historic carriage collection and stables.
The Bauernhof also features seating areas, and vendors with food and drink. Visitors age 21 and older may receive a sample of Anheuser-Busch beverage for free.
If visitors are planning on visiting the park, they should check the Grant’s Farm website for hours of operation. There are no fast food or family restaurants near either the National Historic Park or Grant’s Farm.
Jefferson Barracks base, where Grant served as a young officer, is still in South St. Louis. It is no longer an active military base. However, much of the historic facility is now the Jefferson Barrack National Cemetery.
Many of the historic features are still there – including the parade grounds where generations of American soldiers drilled and prepared for war.
The new Missouri Civil War Museum is also at Jefferson Barracks; there is a schedule of admission for veterans, senior citizens, students and the general public.
7.2015 Grant’s Farm 1 – Two American Bald Eagles call the animal refuge at Grant’s Farm home these days. Both birds were injured and unable to go back to the wild, so are on loan to Grant’s Farm.
7.2015 Grants Farm2 – What visit to Grant’s Farm would be complete without checking out the world-famous Clydesdale horses? Many of the horses call Grant’s Farm home and through the years the park and Clydesdales have been featured in advertisements and video.
By Annabeth Miller