After a string of presidents with super complex legacies, it was kind of nice to go see the very green house of Ulysses S. Grant, reluctant president and, as far as I can tell, pretty decent guy.
No, really, it’s very green:
The ranger told us that this color is called Paris Green after the compound used to kill rats in the Paris sewers. It is the authentic original color of the house, and was, we were told, very popular at the time. I can say that I appreciate authenticity and that I will not be using Paris Green in my own house anytime soon.
Though the Grants only lived at White Haven, in St. Louis, for a few years, they held on to the property until shortly before US Grant’s death and always thought of it as their home. Today the National Park Service maintains the site and offers tours of the house and surrounding property, as well as a museum and a visitors’ center with a film about Grant. Our summer road trip included a few days in St. Louis, and we visited here and the adjacent Grant’s Farm (which has nothing to do with Grant except being named after him and everything to do with Budweiser) on one of those days.
There’s parking at the site, and there’s also a bike path that goes right by it, so we parked a few miles away and biked here (which also meant we avoided the parking fee at Grant’s Farm).
We were told the film was a little intense for younger kids, so we ended up skipping it and doing the house tour shortly after we arrived. Admission and tours are free, but you have to sign up for a specific tour inside the visitors’ center.
The ranger talked about the history of the property for awhile outside, then let us in to show ourselves around the first floor of the house. There are interpretive signs in there as well as a nicely done little movie reenacting a scene with Grant and his father-in-law debating slavery (that mirror melts away and becomes TV! Fancy!):
We met back up with our ranger outside for a tour of some of the outbuildings.
The kitchen had another movie, this one giving an imagined conversation between some of the enslaved people who lived here about pre-war events and rumors (Grant was anti-slavery (although he did own one slave during his life, probably given to him by his father-in-law) whom he freed before the war), but his father-in-law was not, and during the time before the war Grant was managing the farm for his father-in-law).
And then we spent as much time as Abe would allow exploring the small museum (I believe it was in a converted horse barn. Word is Grant really loved horses). It was nicely done, with several interactive features:
We ended up our visit with Abe getting his Junior Ranger badge–his first but definitely not last of the trip:
This was a pleasant and quick stop, and we learned a lot about a president we’d never given a lot of thought to before. Sorry, Grant! Combining it with a trip to the (much less educational and more pure touristy fun) Grant’s Farm worked out really well for our group; Abe was patient enough through the tour and was rewarded with animals shows and bottle feeding baby goats afterwards.