Take a Virtual Tour of Ulysses Grant’s Life

Ulysses S. Grant lived in many places throughout his lifetime. Now that the year-long celebration of the Ulysses S. Grant Bicentennial has come to an end, we thought it was a perfect time to visit a range of historic sites around the country where you can trace the growth and development of our 18th president.  From homes to memorials to museums, each of these 11 sites provides a unique perspective on the life and legacy of our 18th president.

The first stop on our virtual tour is Ulysses’ birthplace in Point Pleasant, a small town in southwest Ohio. He was born there on April 27, 1822, in a one-story frame home rented by his parents, Jesse and Hannah Grant.  The family moved a year later to a larger brick home in nearby Georgetown, Ohio, and young Ulysses lived there until he left for West Point in 1839. In addition to his boyhood home, the town also features the small schoolhouse he attended, the tannery his father built, and other Grant-related sites.

Credit: U.S. Grant Birthplace

When he was 17, Grant enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, thanks to his father’s encouragement.  Visitors to West Point can see several memorials and statues dedicated to Grant when they book a tour at the academy.

Painting of West Point by George Catlin, circa 1827. Credit: U.S. Army

After graduation, the young cadet was assigned to join the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis.  It was here that Grant’s friendships led him to visit White Haven, the sprawling plantation where he would meet his future wife, Julia Dent. Visitors to Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site can tour the White Haven home as well as the on-site museum devoted to Ulysses and Julia’s lives.

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

Other sites on our virtual tour trace the various military outposts and stations around the country where Grant served in the U.S. military, sometimes with Julia and his children, sometimes not.  These include Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, WA – another National Park Service site.

Barracks at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Credit: NPS

Additional Grant home sites that are open for public tours are also part of our virtual tour.  They include the Grant home in Galena, Ill., where his family relocated after his failed career as a farmer in White Haven, and the Grant Cottage in Wilton, NY where Grant died of throat cancer on July 23, 1885.

The Grant home in Galena, IL. Credit: U.S. Grant State Historic Sites

The final resting place of Ulysses and Julia Grant is also worthy of a visit.  This is the General Grant National Memorial in New York City. This largest mausoleum in North America was dedicated in 1897, with more than a million people in attendance.

General Grant National Memorial. Credit: NPS

And finally, Grant scholars will want to stop in at the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library in Starkville, MI.  Mississippi was the site of the Battle of Vicksburg, the general’s greatest victory in the Civil War.  Visitors to the library can view exhibits as well as many of Grant’s papers, which are housed at Mississippi State University.

Credit: Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library

The Paradox of Thomas Jefferson

How many superlatives can one use to describe Thomas Jefferson?  First and foremost, he was a Founding Father whose defense of democracy and individual rights motivated American colonists to break away from Britain and form a new nation.  As principal author of the Declaration of Independence, he inspired human rights movements around the world with his assertion that “all men are created equal” and that they had a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”   

Jefferson was also the first American Secretary of State, the second vice-president, and the third president.  During his presidential term, he peacefully negotiated the purchase from France of 827,987 square miles of the continent – known as the Louisiana Purchase – doubling the size of the U.S.  And he commissioned Meriwether Lewis and George Clark to lead their Corps of Discovery on their ambitious and successful two-year exploration of the newly acquired territory.  

Diplomat, statesman, lawyer, architect, inventor, philosopher, and plantation owner – there seems no end to the accomplishments of this 19th century figure.  Yet Thomas Jefferson was also a man of contradictions. 

Though he often called slavery an “abominable crime” and a “moral depravity,” he was a lifelong slaveholder who used slave labor for his household, plantation, and workshops. Over the course of his life, he owned more than 600 enslaved African Americans, eventually freeing only 10 of them, including the children of his household slave Sally Hemmings, with whom he had a longtime affair.   

Jefferson also held conflicting views on Native Americans.  On the one hand, he refuted the idea that Indigenous people were an inferior race, asserting that they were “equal in body and mind” to people of European descent.  Yet as president, he adopted an assimilation policy toward American Indians known as his “civilization program” and advocated for policies that called for the removal of Indians from their homelands. 

Jefferson’s views on religion, like everything else about him, were complex. He was a governing member of his local Episcopal Church, yet he came to believe Jesus was an important philosopher but not the son of God.  Jefferson’s religious views were nevertheless highly influential.  He reacted strongly against the laws of Virginia Colony, for instance, which allowed only Anglicans to hold public office. These laws prompted Jefferson to write the Statute of Religious Freedom for Virginia, ideas later incorporated into the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. 

Jefferson’s relationship to money was also complicated. He was wealthy most of his life, partly due to inheritances of slaves, land, and livestock from his own father and his first wife Martha’s father.  He lived a lavish lifestyle at Monticello, the estate he built on a Virginia hilltop, spending large sums on construction projects, furnishings, and décor.  At the end of his life, however, Jefferson was more than $100,000 in debt (about $2 million today) and was forced to sell his personal library to the government. It became the nucleus of the Library of Congress.  

Overall, the legacy of Thomas Jefferson is complex and full of contradictions. Neither a true hero nor a villain, he was simply a brilliant but complicated human being. Through both his successes and shortcomings, it cannot be denied that Thomas Jefferson permanently altered the course of American history. 

Voyageurs National Park: 80 Years in the Making

Voyageurs National Park is a wonderland of lakes, streams, forests, and wildlife.  It is also one of the few places in North America where you can see and touch rocks half the age of the Earth. The exposed rock is the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, the gigantic dome of volcanic bedrock that forms the core of the continent. 

As this special site gets ready to celebrate its 52nd year as a national park on January 8, it’s worth looking back on its controversial beginnings.  Voyageurs is a park that took 80 years to create! 

All the way back in 1891, the Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution requesting that the federal government create a national park in Minnesota by “setting apart a tract of land along the northern boundary of the state.”  Congress never acted upon the request but that didn’t stop nature lovers from continuing to press for some form of federal protection for the forest and water resources of northeastern Minnesota, especially the border lakes region. History lovers, too, wanted the area preserved to commemorate the intrepid French-Canadian voyageurs who once criss-crossed its lakes and streams to transport furs and other goods. 

However, opposition to the national park proposal was fierce, especially from business interests who wanted to take advantage of the area’s abundant natural resources, primarily forests, minerals, and water.  The battle also pitted locals against what they called “outsiders,” i.e., lawmakers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and “land grabbing” federal lawmakers. 

The stalemate continued through the mid-20th century until the 1950s and 1960s, when park proponents managed to interest the National Park Service in developing a plan for a national park.  In October of 1962, the NPS Advisory Board submitted a formal recommendation to the Secretary of Interior, noting that the area was “superbly qualified to be designated the second national park in the Midwest.” (Isle Royale was the first national park in the region.) 

It took years for the park’s enabling legislation to pass Congress, part of which required the State of Minnesota to donate 36,000 acres of state-owned land to the effort.  Many local residents were still opposed, seeing the move as encroachment by the federal government that would limit logging and hunting in the area and decrease taxable property. 

But finally in 1971 President Nixon signed the Voyageurs bill into law, though the site wouldn’t be officially established as the nation’s 36th national park until 1975.   

After the creation of the park, NPS began planning and constructing trails, boating sites, and other visitor amenities; it also established the area as a site for scientific research and conservation. In 1992, a wildlife protection zone was established for the gray wolf.  More than 220 Indigenous pre-contact sites have been identified within the park, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

The path to national park status isn’t always smooth.  But JNPA, for one, is gratified that Voyageurs will continue to protect this invaluable wilderness experience for all Americans. 

Keep Out the Winter Chill

Now that most of us are in the throes of Ol’ Man Winter, what better time to make sure you have the right clothes and drinkware to keep you warm.  Luckily, our partner parks offer a wide range of winter-ready products:

Who knows cold weather better than the folks in northern Minnesota?  This cheery red hoodie from Voyageurs National Park promises to keep you warm and toasty.  Comes in sizes small to XX-large.

If you’re looking for something more lightweight, you’ll love this French terry hooded sweatshirt from Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.   

Gateway Arch fans can stay warm in this Docker hooded sweatshirt.  It features the park name against a soothing blue background. 

And don’t forget to keep your head warm.  This cozy striped toque from Voyageurs not only does the job, but it’s the same design that the original voyageurs wore in the northern latitudes

Need something to keep your coffee or cocoa hot when you’re outdoors?  Try this handsome insulated water bottle from The Arch Store.  Made of sturdy stainless steel with a silver Arch graphic against a navy background.

All of these products are available both at our stores in their respective national parks, as well as from JNPA’s online store.  Remember:  each purchase you make helps support the educational programs and exhibits at our partner sites.

Broke at Christmas

Let’s face it – many of us stress over holiday spending, whether it’s for gifts, airline tickets, party clothes, special foods, or even supplies for house guests.  So it might be comforting to know that some of America’s most famous historical figures also faced money woes during the Christmas season.  Take Ulysses S. Grant, who found himself in tough times at the holidays while living at White Haven.

Credit: NPS

In the mid-1850s, Grant was working hard to make a living as a farmer while he and his wife Julia were raising their young children at his in-laws’ 850-acre plantation near St. Louis.  He intended to plant potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and other vegetables – enough “to keep a wagon going to market every day.”  He was optimistic that the venture would be successful, writing his father that “Every day I like farming better and I do not doubt that money is to be made of it.” 

However, unseasonably bad weather, poor health, and an unstable economy hampered Grant, and he was forced on several occasions to ask his father for a loan to purchase farm equipment and seeds.  By late 1857 he became despondent and predicted financial ruin if his father didn’t come through (there is no evidence he ever received his much-needed loan). 

Credit: Library of Congress

To make matters worse, America was undergoing a severe recession known as the Panic of 1857 caused by both the declining international economy and the over-expansion of the U.S. economy in previous years.  The Grant family was in a precarious financial state.  Just two days before Christmas, Grant was forced to pawn off a valuable gold watch and chain.  Even with this cash infusion, Ulysses, Julia, and their three children no doubt endured a bleak holiday season, as did many other American families that year.

A Painting of White Haven before the American Civil War. Credit: NPS

Eventually, Grant made plans to sell his farming equipment and by the fall of 1858 he and his family moved to St. Louis to find a new line of work.  Within a few years, the family moved to Galena, Illinois, and never again lived in Missouri.

“I still believe in a place called Hope.”

The National Park Service operates dozens of historic places that explore the lives and contributions of many of our U.S. Presidents.  They range from homes where future presidents lived as children to memorials that honor their memories after their deaths. 

One of the newer presidential sites – President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site – will be celebrating its 12th anniversary as an NPS site tomorrow.  And while it is a smaller park, it holds a fascinating history.

Credit: Clinton Foundation

Little Billy Clinton (originally named Blythe until he was adopted by his stepfather) spent the first four years of his life in a white frame house at 117 South Hervey Street in Hope, Arkansas.  His widowed mother Virginia left town shortly after he was born to attend nursing school, so the young boy was left in the care of his grandparents, who ran a small grocery store.  At a time when the southern U.S. was racially segregated, his grandparents served people of all races, a memory that Clinton says shaped his broad view on race relations and social justice. 

The 2½-story home – built in 1917 in a quiet residential neighborhood of Hope – was designed in the “American foursquare” style, so called because of its square floor plan. Its interior has been restored in recent years and although the furnishings inside the house aren’t original, they were carefully chosen to evoke the 1940s, when Clinton lived there. The first floor includes a living room, dining room and kitchen; upstairs are three bedrooms.

Little Billy’s bedroom with its cowboy-themed bedspread overlooks the nearby railroad tracks.  Billy loved playing cowboy games with the neighborhood children, many of whom remained friends well into the future president’s White House years. 

Today, National Park Service rangers offer guided tours of the home upon request.  (Their schedule changes often, so it’s best to call 870-4455 for accurate tour times.) The park also operates a Visitor Center next door to the home, where guests can tour interpretive exhibits focusing on the life of the 42nd president.  JNPA operates a gift shop there that features books and other products that interpret his life as well as fair-trade craft products from around the world, upon the request of the former president.

Credit: White House Collection/White House Historical Association

President Clinton credits his early days in his childhood home for many of the important life lessons that later defined his presidency and his leadership as a global statesman.  As he frequently says, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”

Calling all NPS History Buffs!

The National Park Service has a long and storied history.  Starting with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, NPS has taken seriously its mission of preserving and protecting America’s natural resources and historical places for the benefit of current and future generations.  Over the years, the agency has collected more than four million artifacts, photographs, documents, uniforms, and other memorabilia that document the stories of our nation’s culture and history.  Most of those items are carefully stored and preserved at the NPS Harper’s Ferry Center in West Virginia, where few of us will ever be privileged to see them.

But now there’s good news for NPS history buffs – the agency’s history collection can be accessed virtually through a new behind the scenes experience. You can follow the guided tour or choose your own path to discover objects, art, photographs, and uniforms that span over 100 years of NPS history. 

Another fascinating resource is the NPS online museum collection, a searchable online database that provides access to thousands of images and records from numerous parks’ individual museum collections. You can simply browse the online database or search the themed collection highlights that group together the parks’ artifacts by particular themes, types of objects, or locations.  Each week, NPS features a Collection Highlight of the Week that can range from historic clothing to model ships to prehistoric artifacts.  (Warning – you can quickly get absorbed by these fascinating items and lose all track of time!)

Finally, teachers will want to check out the NPS online resource  Teaching with Museum Collections. The site provides lesson plans by theme and park as well as guides on How to Read an Object and How to Read a Photo.  

Happy snooping!

Gateway Arch Gifts for Everyone!

Prowling for gift ideas for your loved ones this holiday season?  Look no further – The Arch Store at Gateway Arch National Park has got you covered. 

From kids to adults, from hobbyists to national park lovers – you’ll find a fun selection of merchandise to satisfy even the pickiest member of your family. 

Let’s see what our longtime sales associate Michelle Christian recommends in her Black Friday shopping guide video.

All of the products Michelle highlighted are available at The Arch Store on the lower level of the Arch visitor center.  You can also shop for them at our online store and have them delivered (but please order early to assure they arrive on time!).

Fans of national parks will enjoy this challenging jigsaw puzzle that features patches from each of America’s beloved parks (including our personal favorite).  Its 1,000 colorful pieces should keep puzzle addicts busy all winter.

Of course it’s never too early to get children interested in our parks.  This adorable alphabet board book will help pre-readers become familiar with many popular animals, landmarks, and scenic views from national parks.

If you have any hobbyists on your gift-giving list, they’re sure to enjoy our Gateway Arch mini building blocks set.  With more than 1,900 pieces, it’s not for the faint of heart!  Once completed, the finished product stands 14” high and more than 18” long.

As they build or puzzle, perhaps they’d like to sip coffee or cocoa from our handsome Arch by Moonlight mug.  Available in blue or black, the mug features the Arch rendered in silver foil, overlaid by a raised hand-painted landscape in the foreground. 

Children also love something special to sip from.  Wouldn’t the kid in your life love one of these zany little Gateway Arch tumblers with the matching spiral straw?  Choose from green, purple, or blue.  Makes a great stocking stuffer! 

How about giving your little readers this adorable book on the Gateway Arch?  They’ll enjoy being guided around the Arch by Archie the Squirrel.

Last but not least – how about this stunning stemless wine glass? The hand-painted design features the Gateway Arch against a colorful floral background.  Pick up one or two for that special someone.

Why We’re Thankful

Here at JNPA, we’re proud to serve as a non-profit partner of some of our nation’s most treasured public lands.  So in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to take a moment to list some of the many things we’re thankful for.

Living history programs that bring the past alive for visitors of all ages. 

(Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site)

Breathtaking scenery that inspires and enriches all of us.

(Voyageurs National Park)

Parks that honor the courageous men and women who fought for equality for all Americans.

(Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site)

Preserving America’s important historic buildings for future generations to enjoy.

(Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park)

Dedicated interpretive rangers from the Army Corps of Engineers who share the wonders of their sites with visitors.

(Lewis and Clark Visitor Center)

Energetic and committed National Park Service rangers who inspire children to become Junior Rangers.

(Voyageurs National Park)

Opportunities for recreation and enjoyment of the outdoors.

(Lewis and Clark Visitor Center)

Educators at all of our partner parks who share their love of public lands with tomorrow’s generation.

(Gateway Arch National Park)

Preserving the homes of America’s presidents as a way of helping us understand and connect with these important figures.

(President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site)

Honoring African Americans’ struggle to achieve freedom and respect in American society.

(Gateway Arch National Park)

Commemorating the diverse nationalities, traditions, and cultures that helped shape our nation.

(Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park)

Preserving critical wilderness areas that safeguard our nation’s biodiversity and ecological health.

(Mississippi National River and Recreation Area)

Protecting America’s rivers and streams that are so vital for drinking water, recreation, and commerce.

(Missouri National Recreational River)

Architectural marvels that enhance our nation’s cultural heritage and stimulate our imaginations.

(Gateway Arch National Park)

Many thanks to JNPA’s partner parks and all they do to protect America’s heritage, landscapes, and stories.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving’s Complicated History

Every schoolkid will tell you about the origins of Thanksgiving.  How the Pilgrims in Massachusetts shared a late autumn feast with members of the Wampanoag nation after the colonists’ first harvest in 1621.  How the celebration became an annual tradition commemorated throughout the growing nation.  And how Thanksgiving Day was eventually declared a national holiday that Americans still honor around the family dinner table.

Sound like what you learned in school?

Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner – Thomas Nast 1869

Well, as with so many accounts of our nation’s past, the Thanksgiving origin story is just a little more complex than that (and a lot more interesting).  And thanks to the historians at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, you can learn all about it this weekend. 

An annual day of thanks does indeed harken back to the very early days of our nation.  But it wasn’t observed only in Massachusetts.  In 1619, a group of English colonists celebrated a thanksgiving service and feast after their ship safely landed near Jamestown, Virginia, and they vowed to establish the tradition every year thereafter. 

Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically in various American colonies throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation encouraging a nationwide day of thanks, though his declaration had more to do with a religious observance than an autumn feast.  Governors of various states gradually embraced the idea, and the observance of Thanksgiving became more widespread – until the 1850s. 

For whatever reason, the origin of Thanksgiving – and indeed the young nation – had become associated with New England, not Virginia.  So as the national divide over slavery polarized the North and the South, southerners soured on anything associated with Massachusetts.  They considered Thanksgiving a “Yankee holiday” and adorned with that region’s symbols and traditions:  Pilgrims, turkey, pumpkins, and cranberries. So rather than celebrate the annual event, many Confederate sympathizers chose to fast on Thanksgiving, not feast.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation – Library of Congress

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday at the height of the Civil War in 1863, he was well aware of this controversy.  In his proclamation he intentionally refrained from mentioning any references to the geographic origins of the feast, instead looking at the shared holiday as a way to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

Union soldiers fighting in the war made the most of the new holiday as they paused to enjoy a special meal.  Their Confederate counterparts, however, most likely abstained.  

Today, as most Americans honor Thanksgiving with their own traditions, few probably realize the fraught history surrounding the holiday.  If you’re interested in learning more about its origins, you’re invited to a special ranger talk at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  Park historian Nick Sacco will share his insight on the history of Thanksgiving during the Civil War.  The lecture is free, but reservations are required.  Call (314) 842-1867 ext. 230 to sign up.

Meanwhile, warm Thanksgiving wishes from Jefferson National Parks Association!