Visitors Guide to the
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
(White Haven)

7400 Grant Road
Grantwood Village, MO
314-842-3298

Accessible Parking Accessible Interpretive Exhibits Accessible Missouri Historic Site Accessible Walking & Jogging Paths Accessible Bike Trail Accessible Wildlife Viewing Accessible Gift Shop Accessible Restrooms Parking for Tour Buses

   

There are many sites in the United States that commemorate or interpret Ulysses S. Grant, (1822-1885, 1843 photo left) a famous Civil War general and the 18th president of the United States, and the role that this historic 19th century American played in shaping the country. Unlike other sites the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site that is commonly called White Haven looks at Grant from a different perspective. White Haven encompasses nearly 10 acres of the 1,000-acre plantation that was the childhood home of Julia Dent, the woman who Grant married in 1848. The exhibits and programs at White Haven are designed to introduce visitors to Ulysses, Julia, and the people who lived at the plantation as individuals and present White Haven as a microcosm of the issues that faced the nation in the mid 19th-century. The site also allows visitors to experience 19th-century country life first hand.

 
The White Haven House

The land that White Haven is on was originally part of a Spanish land grant along Gravois Creek southwest of St. Louis given to Hugh Graham. By 1799 Graham had exchanged it with James Mackay. Mackay was a Scottish fur trader who explored the Missouri River for the Spanish government in 1797. Lewis and Clark consulted Mackay and used his maps on their expedition seven years later. In 1808 Mackay sold a portion of the land grant to his brother-in-law William Long. Long began building the home now called White Haven in 1816. The original portion of the two-story house is called the the "Long House" and was built using A French Colonial style of construction that places logs vertically in the ground as opposed to the horizontal style favored by English settlers. This style also features wide covered porches as a way to deal with the oppressive summer weather. In 1818 Long decided to found the town of Fenton along the Meramec River and sold the property and the unfinished house  to Theodore and Anne Lucas Hunt.

In the two years the Hunts owned the house they added the two-room portion to the back of the house, called the "Hunt Addition". In 1820, the Hunts sold the home to "Colonel" Frederick Dent, a St. Louis attorney, businessman, and father of Ulysses S. Grant's West Point roommate. The Dent family rented a home in what is now downtown St. Louis and used the Gravois Creek property as a summer home. The property also gave Dent the opportunity to assume the role of a Southern gentleman farmer. By 1840 Dent had added the West Wing addition and back porch. The East Wing addition, first-floor winter kitchen, and mudroom were added by the Grants after the Civil War.

Many visitors ask why the White Haven house is painted green and not white. The reason is that Colonel Dent named the property "White Haven" after his family's home in Maryland and so the name has no relation to the color of the house. White Haven is painted in the same color as it was when Ulysses and Julia lived there in the 1850s and this particular shade of green was a popular choice at the time. In addition to the main house, a stone summer kitchen, an icehouse, a chicken house, and a horse stable are on the property.

 
Grant and Julia's Time at White Haven

Julia Boggs Dent (1826-1902, 1850s photo left,) was the eldest daughter of the seven children born to Colonel Dent. Julia spent much of her childhood on the White Haven plantation. Julia was at boarding school in St. Louis when Ulysses S. Grant first visited White Haven in the summer of 1843. Grant had just been assigned to the Fourth U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, an important military post located south of St. Louis. Ulysses enjoyed visiting the Dent home where he debated politics with the Colonel and went horseback riding with Dent’s youngest daughters, Nellie and Emma. In February of 1843 Julia  returned from school and Ulysses’ visits soon focused upon spending time with her. The following spring, when Ulysses learned that his regiment was being reassigned to Louisiana, he immediately rode out to White Haven to ask for Julia's hand in marriage. The marriage was delayed until August 22, 1848, after Ulysses' return from the Mexican-American War. In November of 1848 Julia left White Haven to become an Army wife and lived on the army bases that Ulysses was posted to in Michigan and New York. She did return to White Haven in May of 1850 to give birth to the Grants' first child, Frederick Dent Grant. In 1852 Ulysses was forced to leave his family behind when he was transferred to California. Julia returned to White Haven with young Frederick after giving birth to a second son, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. Ulysses found the separation from Julia and his family too much to bear and in 1854 he resigned his commission and returned to White Haven.

The Grants were active in the management of the farming operation at White Haven. Colonel Dent had given Ulysses and Julia 80 acres of the White Haven property when they were married and in 1855 Grant built a four-room, two-story log cabin. This acreage is north of the White Haven House in what is now St. Paul's Churchyard Cemetery and a historical marker marks the location. The cabin was completed in just three days and was facetiously called "Hardscrabble" (meaning "yielding a bare or meager living with great labor or difficulty") because the cabin was so crude and homely. Three months after the Grants moved into "Hardscrabble" Julia's mother died and Colonel Dent asked the Grants to return to the main house so Julia could help raise her younger sisters. The Grants were forced to abandon the farm and move to St. Louis in 1858 due to depressed agricultural prices, a June frost, and illness. During the Civil War Julia and the children spent much of their time at White Haven with Grant visiting them when on leave. In 1863 the Grants began purchasing the White Haven property from Colonel Dent. After the war the Grants relocated to Washington D.C. because of his military duties but they often returned to White Haven for rest and relaxation.

During Grant's presidency, he made preparations for retirement at White Haven. Caretakers managed the farm by raising crops, constructing barns, and breeding horses. Following his presidency Grant settled in New York City in 1881 where he formed a brokerage firm with Ulysses Jr. and Ferdinand Ward. It so happened that Ward was a Ponzi scheme artist ahead of his time and the firm collapsed in 1884. The Grant's lost ownership of White Haven when it was used to pay off a personal debt to railroad magnate William Henry Vanderbilt in 1884. When Vanderbilt tried to return the home to him, Grant refused, insisting that he pay his debt. Grant died a year later in 1885 of throat cancer. Julia's last visit to White Haven was in 1894 when she attended a social function held by Luther Conn who had purchased the property in 1888. Julia spent her remaining years in Washington D.C. where, supported by the sales of Ulysses' memoirs, living in comfort as a "Grand Dame" until her death in 1902. 

 
Slavery at White Haven

Many visitors to White Haven are surprised to learn that the plantation made use of slave labor during the time Grant lived here. Missouri was a slave state up until the time of the Civil War and the areas along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers were known as "Little Dixie" because of the large cotton plantations that made intensive use of slave labor. The interpretation of slavery at White Haven and how Grant was influenced by his experience here is an important part of the mission of this historic site.

When the Hunts purchased the property from William Long in 1818 there existed “several good log cabins” which provided potential quarters for their five slaves. Colonel Dent considered himself a Southern gentleman and by the 1850s eighteen slaves lived and worked at White Haven. Julia Dent recalled childhood memories of slave children as her playmates. After returning home from boarding school, Julia noted the transition of these children from playmate to servant. During Grant’s management of the farm he worked side by side with Dan, one of the slaves given to Julia at birth. Grant, who came from an abolitionist family, often debated the slavery issue with the Colonel, an ardent southern Democrat known for his support for secession over the issue of slavery. A unique video of these debates can be seen during visits to the main house.

In 1859, Grant freed William Jones, the only slave he is known to have owned. During the Civil War, some slaves at White Haven simply walked off, as they did on many plantations in both Union and Confederate states. A Missouri constitutional convention abolished slavery in the state in January 1865, freeing any slaves still living at White Haven.

 
White Haven as a National Historic Site

The last private owners of White Haven were the Wenzlick family who acquired the central 15-acre portion of the property in 1913. In the 1980s the Wenzlick estate was trying to sell the property and it was in jeopardy of becoming a housing development. To prevent this the Save Grant's White Haven, Inc. was formed in 1985 to preserve White Haven as a historical site. In 1986 St. Louis County purchased White Haven and in 1989 the site was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1990 White Haven was turned over to the National Park Service, which opened the site to the public the next year.

The National Park Service has restored the White Haven house and several of the historic structures on the property. Free Ranger led tours of the inside of the historic home and its outbuildings are offered every half hour. The horse stable holds both a refurbished stable area with period equipment and a museum that interprets Ulysses and Julia's personal lives and family relationships as well as Grant's historical legacy. The Visitor Center has a classroom that doubles as an exhibit space for additional interpretive exhibits, a gift shop, an information center, and a theater that shows a movie called "White Haven: A Place to Call Home."  An accessible walking path that traverses the property has additional interpretive signage that explains the significance of the property. Junior Ranger programs are offered for children and the site hosts occasional special events and exhibits. The "Hardscrabble" cabin is located across the road at Grant's Farm, an animal park run by the Anheuser-Busch company. Grant's Trail, an 8 mile long "rails to trails" flat bike and jogging trail, runs past the property.

Visiting the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
     Visiting Hours
          9 am to 5 pm daily
          Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
          Tours of the main house begin at 9:30 am and every half hour after that
               The last tour begins at 4:30 pm
There is no charge to visit to visit the the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.


Location: From downtown St. Louis take I-44 west to the Elm Avenue exit. Turn Take Elm Avenue south (left) to Pardee. Turn right and follow Pardee (which will turn into Grant Road) and pass Grant's Farm until you reach the historic site which will be on the left.

Learn more about the St. Louis area.


Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site - Use the official site of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site for answers to all the questions you may have.

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