Although it’s a modestly-sized home, it’s hard to miss as you drive up. President Ulysses S. Grant’s home is certainly not the most extravagant house in Galena (that award most likely belongs to the Belvedere Mansion). Beyond its exterior, however, there’s much to learn on the inside, as you tour a building that houses 90% of Grant and his family’s original belongings, each with a personal story to accompany it.
Green Chair a Window into the Past
Nothing in Grant’s home says it better than the green chair. Worn down from loving use and travel, it immediately sticks out in the home’s first room. A person’s belongings can tell you a lot about the person, and the fact that you see such a large portion of original pieces during your tour means that there are many times you’ll gain the opportunity to peer through a deeply personal window into the day-to-day life of our country’s 18th president.
This chair was so important to Grant that it was one of the belongings that traveled with him wherever he went, from Illinois all the way to Washington, D.C., and back again. Commonly hailed because of his military strategy, it seems to this writer that his persistence was key, too, to his beloved arm chair’s travels.
Speaking of travels, you’re likely to feel like you’ve wandered into a museum of global artifacts during moments of your tour of Grant’s home! That’s because many of the belongings on the house’s main floor were gifts given to Grant and his wife, Julia Dent, during their two-and-a-half year world tour vacation. The story goes, we were told on our tour, that the trip was initially planned to be much shorter; however, when the Grants were treated like celebrities wherever they stopped, they just had to keep going! By the time they returned, Grant had put on considerable weight, because of all the feasting they had partaken in.
In the Grants’ dining room, you’re able to view some of Grant’s wife, Julia’s, personal touches, where an example of presidential china can be seen. A specialty design commissioned by Grant’s wife for their daughter’s wedding at the White House, the china offers a window into the way that personal touches were added to objects in the mid-1800s. Elegant pastel-colored flowers adorn the center of the china, with a small crest for the family name at the top of the plate. These personal touches are identifiable throughout the rest of your tour, too. From works of art to an incredibly large and heavy Bible, each of these belongings offers you a deeper, more personal perspective into the lives of these important historical figures.
Knowledgeable Guide Enhances the Grant’s Home Tour
Throughout your tour, any and all questions can be posed to a knowledgeable docent whose passion for history and Grant’s life is evident in every answer he provides. When asked about Grant and Julia’s views of her father’s ownership of slaves, for example, our docent, Chuck, discussed the role that Julia and Grant’s upbringing and studies played in their ongoing conversations about the topic. In fact, Chuck shared, people were amazed at the fact that even as they grew older the Grant and Julia still conversed as deeply as they had when they’d first begun courtship. Far from perfunctory, expect to be enlightened and entertained by your tour guide while visiting Grant’s home, as humor and history meld together at each stop in the home. Far from a recitation of rote memorization, you’ll feel as if your tour guide is truly conversing with you during your visit--just another personal touch in a building full of personality.
Other Exhibits Offer Other Lenses to View Former Presidents
Outside of Grant’s home, you’ve got the opportunity to visit several other exhibits which continue to offer more personal perspectives about past presidents. If you’ve ever been curious about which presidents were animal lovers, you can view an exhibit showcasing the startling variety of presidential pets who have lived in the White House, including, on two separate occasions, alligators! Another exhibit allows you to continue exploring different examples of presidential china, showcasing a collection of reproduced designs that illustrate an intricate evolution of thought regarding the subject and style of these designs. For this writer, who was so taken by learning about the presidential china in Grant’s own home, this exhibit was especially fascinating.
With multiple ways for you to engage with the history surrounding Grant and his home, Galena, IL is an excellent destination for history buffs and museum aficionados alike. Led by a knowledgeable tour guide and showcasing personal and political artifacts, a Grant’s Home tour makes you feel as if you’ve walked into the past.
Editor’s Note: Read about a resort just minutes away from Grant’s Home—“ CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN RESORT Review — A Warm and Welcoming Winter Getaway”
Photos courtesy of the author, Brent Ervin-Eickhoff
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