Monday, October 6, 2014

Ulysses S. Grant's White Haven, a National Historic Site

Saturday was a very cool day, in fact the night before we had our heater running- I cannot remember when we ran it last!  My sister Julia and her husband Cal wanted to get together with us, but the challenge was to find something to do with them that did not involve being out in the chilly weather.  We found the perfect place for that challenge at White Haven.  This national historic site was quite fascinating to us on several levels.  First, imagine St.Louis in the 19th century.  It had three main thoroughfares: Gravois Road to the southwest, Manchester to the west and Natural Bridge to the northwest.  In 1854 one "improved road" took farmers into the city, and there was a toll to be paid for that privilege.
For those of you familiar with St.Louis, White Haven is next to the site of Anheuser-Busch's Grant's farm, which has nothing to do with Grant.  However, on the park's ground is the cabin Grant had built called Hardscrabble.  He and his young family lived there before moving int White Haven in 1854.  Colonel Dent, Grant's father-in-law, bought White Haven as a summer home in 1820.  As you can see in the picture above, it is not a white house.  Colonel Dent named the home after his home in Maryland.  During the nineteenth century it was painted various colors, including Paris Green with a dark green trim, which can be seen also inside the home.
 During the nineteenth White Haven remained a working farm of 850 acres.  Gravois Creek ran through the land which included cleared fields and orchards.  That leads me to another interesting level of historic facts which this home provided.  Enslaved workers were vital to the success of the plantation, upwards of 30 worked at White Haven.  General Grant began courting Julia Dent in 1843 when slavery was an important part of life in Missouri.  One of the household slaves, Mary Robinson, recalled one night the Colonel and Grant had a conversation which was a "long and heated one" regarding the owning of slaves.  They never agreed on the subject- Grant came from Ohio, a free state.  Until Grant entered her life Julia had no concept of the harshness of life which the slaves endured to make life easier for her and her family.
Pictured above is the winter kitchen, located below the main house.  Porous stone and poor drainage made it a damp and musty room with poor ventilation.  It had only one window, opening it for better ventilation chilled the room very quickly.  General Grant and his family lived in White Haven during the 1850s when he enjoyed his life as a farmer and breeder of thoroughbred horses.  The Civil War his victory at Vicksburg and the surrender of Lee at Appomattox then thrust him into the national limelight.  He served two terms as our eighteenth president, a museum at White Haven provides another level of the fascinating story regarding Grant and his family during their years in the White House.   In 1884 he sold White Haven, he died in 1885 in Mount McGregor, New York after battling throat cancer for a year. 

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