While most visitors to St. Louis make a point to visit Gateway Arch National Park, another nearby National Park site often falls under the radar. The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is well worth the trip to visit. This site preserves the home where the Union Civil War General and 18th president once lived. Read on to learn all about the best tips to explore history at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.
Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site History
The Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site is centered around the White Haven plantation. This was the home of Grant’s wife’s family, the Dents. Grant actually proposed to his wife Julia right on the porch of this home. (Be sure to pay attention when visiting to learn how his first proposal actually went!)
Settling at White Haven
After Grant resigned from the Army in the 1850s, he and his wife Julia settled at White Haven. From 1854 to 1859 the Dents, Grants and an enslaved African-American workforce lived on the property. Life at White Haven was often filled with conflict as Grant had been raised that slavery was morally wrong while Julia’s family owned 30 slaves and enjoyed the comforts slave labor offered them.
Grant and Slavery
Although Grant benefitted from the farming labor of his father-in-law slaves, Grant himself only owned one slave named William Jones. Grant purchased Jones from his father-in-law in the 1850s. When Grant gave up on farming and moved to St. Louis in 1859, he signed manumission papers to give Jones his freedom.
The historic site does an amazing job of unpacking the complicated issues and events of Grant’s life. During your visit, you can learn about the history of White Haven, the major events of Grant’s life, as well as the history and details of slavery, Civil War, and Grant’s presidency. The impact of living with slavery first hand led to Grant’s progressive for the time views on civil rights.
Visiting the Grant Historic Site
The Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site is located at 7400 Grant Road
St. Louis, MO 63123, right across the road from the popular Grant’s Farm Park.
There is a parking lot with free parking just for visitors to the site.
Park Hours and Admission
The park is open daily 9:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. and closed on major holidays.
Admission to the site and tours are completely free!
Recommended Time for a Visit
1-2 hours is recommended. I thought it would be a quick visit and we stayed over 2 hours!
Things to Do at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Start your visit at the Visitor Center. This is where you can meet for a guided tour of White Haven or watch a 22-minute orientation film providing information on Grant’s military service, life at White Haven, and terms as president. The movie plays every 30 minutes. Our kids enjoyed this movie, but be warned that there are Civil War battle scenes.
The Visitor’s Center also has a gift shop, restrooms, and a classroom area. There was a special traveling exhibit in the classroom at the time we visited.
Become a Junior Ranger
The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site just released a new Junior Ranger badge to commemorate the 200th birthday of Ulysses S. Grant. Kids can pick up an activity booklet at the Visitor’s Center to complete and earn their Junior Ranger badge. The booklet was a little difficult for our 6 and 8 year old kids, but there were several activities they could complete with help.
Tour White Haven
The site offers free guided tours of the White Haven home each hour on the hour. No reservations are required unless you are a group of 15 or more.
Our guide did a wonderful job explaining the history and interesting details all about Grant and White Haven. Despite the name White Haven, you may be surprised to see that the house is actually green in color! You can learn more about why the house has this “Paris Green” color when visiting.
The tour allows you the option to walk the ground floor rooms of the home. All but one of the rooms are wheelchair accessible. You can view period furnishings, view Grant’s office, and read various interpretive panels.
Explore the Grounds and Outbuildings
Whether you take the guided tour or not, access is still available around the grounds and the outbuildings. While the farm once included 850 acres, only a small amount of land and four historic outbuildings remain. You can view the Summer Kitchen, Chicken House, Ice House, and Horse Stable. These structures are all viewable along a 0.25 mile concrete path.
Visit the Museum
The Ulysses S. Grant designed a horse stable which was constructed on the property in 1872. This barn is now the museum for the site.
The front section of the museum retains the stable features while the remainder of the museum features exhibits on the life and times of Ulysses and Julia Grant. Half the museum focuses on Grant’s private life and family while the other half highlights his public service to the United States.
While we didn’t have time to explore the museum quite as in depth as I would have liked, what we did get to view was very informative. Even our kids enjoyed several of the interactive displays as well as the children’s area.
Participate in the NPS Wellness Challenge
A new National Park Service Wellness Challenge recently launched at all seven of Missouri’s National Park sites. Each park has nine challenges – three physical, three mental, and three learning. When complete, you can earn a challenge badge or certificate in one or all three categories.
We managed to complete 8 of 9 challenges for Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site and received our Wellness Challenge Stamps. (The 3 mile guided jog challenge will have to wait!) Cards for the challenge are available at the Visitor’s Center. In fact, we were the very first people to have our cards stamped!
Attend a Special Event
Overall Impression of Grant Historic Site
Overall, our whole family enjoyed our visit and highly recommend a visit. The site is free, informative, and educational for the whole family.
If you are looking for more free things to do in St. Louis, check out this post for the Best Free Things to do in St. Louis.
Have you ever visited this National Historic Site?