Living in St. Louis, it is easy to become blasé about many of the significant historical events that are part of our extremely rich heritage. While the world today has been made smaller—and in many ways, less remarkable—due to technology, hearken back to a time when citizens had to really earn and work to be considered remarkable or big.
Well, St. Louis in the 19th century was both remarkable and big! It was the main port for the movement of anything up and down the mighty Mississippi, from hardware to fur pelts and everything else related to creating a first-class civilization in our still very young country.
One example of our area’s impact on our nation’s history happened on a family plantation on Gravois Creek, where a young girl won the heart of a soldier who would later become the 18th president of the United States.
Julia Dent (1826-1902) grew up on her family’s plantation, White Haven. One day, her brother invited a former West Point roommate to White Haven. The young solder—then stationed at nearby Jefferson Barracks—paid a visit to the plantation and became smitten with his friend’s sister.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) married Miss Dent in 1848, after a five-year engagement. The young couple spent many years lovingly farming the family plantation, not just the 80 acres they were given as a wedding present, but also the remaining acreage still belonging to the elder Mr. Dent.
Three of the Grants’ four children were born at White Haven. During their marriage, they traveled and lived in other places such as Galena, Ill., and of course, the White House. But White Haven was always considered home by the Grants. The family sold the farm shortly before President Grant’s death.
In 1990, the National Park Service took over ownership and operations of White Haven. This involved a lengthy restoration and a grand plan to make the property a National Historic Site.
To make room for visitors and parking, one of the many improvements required moving a very large barn—not just any barn, but the one that President Grant had actually designed and built himself. The property, known as ‘Hardscrabble,’ now stands on Grant’s Farm, owned by Anheuser-Busch.
In 2007, the Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site became a reality. The first-class, 21st-century interactive visitors’ center features touch-screens, a full research library, a collections library and a children’s dress-up area, all working together to bring the experience of plantation life during the 1800s come alive. This modern technology has spread to the interior of the original home, as well, with picture frames that show a revolving ‘family album’ of life with the Grant family.
For more information, or to plan your visit go to nps.gov/ulsg/