Location: Galena, Illinois
Webpage: Illinois State Park
General Description: After ending a 15 year military career, Ulysses S. Grant and his wife moved to Galena, Illinois to work in his father’s leatherworking shop along with his brothers in 1860. He was a clerk in the store in name only as he spent the winter of 1860-61 traveling through the Northwest meeting with customers. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Grant reenlisted in the US Army where he was commissioned as a Colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Throughout the first years of the war he was aggressively promoted to more significant commands. In 1863, he commanded the Union Victory at Vicksburg which along with the defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, turned the tide of the war. In March, 1864 he was made Lieutenant General of all Union forces and in April of 1865 accepted the surrender of General Lee at Appamattox Court House, thereby becoming a national hero. He returned to Galena in August, 1865, to a hero’s welcome. A brick house designed by William Dennison and constructed in 1860 for former City Clerk Alexander Jackson, was purchased by a small group of businessmen in Galena to present to General Grant two months later. “The house is typical of the Italianate style, which is characterized by well defined rectilinear shapes, projecting eaves supported by brackets, low pitched roof, and balustraded balconies over covered porches.” General Grant lived in this fully furnished house through his Presidential election in 1868 when he moved to Washington D.C. While he never again fully moved back to Galena, he maintained his residency as his formal home. in 1904, Grant’s children gave the house to the city of Galena with the understanding it would be maintained as a memorial to President Grant. However, upkeep of the property became to costly for the struggling city that never recovered from the closing of the Mississippi River during the Civil War and in 1931 was deeded to the state of Illinois. A thorough restoration of the property was done in 1955 to return it to the 1868 condition. Fortunately, the Grant family had left all of the furnishings so over 90% of the interior artifacts are original.
1) The state has done an excellent job maintaining Grant’s home in Galena and the fact that over 90% of the furnishings are original is amazing. There are continuous tours of the home beginning at the front porch that are free (donations are encouraged). Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the Grant’s history and everything in the home. He pointed out quite a number of unique items, however, you have to remember that the home was given to General Grant fully furnished and he only lived a few years there before becoming President. Therefore, while the furnishings are original, they don’t necessarily reflect Grant’s style and tend to be more random than I would have expected.
2) The grounds around the house are also well maintained with a statue of his wife, Julia Grant set prominently before the house. On a clear day you are also rewarded with some spectacular pictures overlooking the town of Galena across the river.
3) Along with a couple of homes that date from the same period on the street, which are not open to the pubic, they have also moved a country store and log cabin to the area that can be visited.
4) Just down the hill from the house, along the banks of the Galena River, is Grant Park which boasts a nice state of General Grant. The park is a nice place for lunch with views of the town across the river.