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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Ulysses S. Grant House in Galena, Illinois.]

Herbert Georg Studio

Ulysses S. Grant House, Galena, Built 1857.

 p188  A Gift from the People

As almost everyone in the state knows, two of the most famous old houses in Illinois are the Abraham Lincoln home in Springfield and the Ulysses S. Grant home in Galena. Each is associated with one of the nation's greatest men and both are now owned and maintained by the state of Illinois as historic shrines. Thousands of tourists from all parts of the country visit these dwellings each year, obtaining a glimpse in them of the home life of two men who played vitally important parts in the history of the United States.

The Grant home is the principal sight of Galena, picturesque old-time city in a hollow of the hills at the extreme northwest of the state, not far from the Mississippi River. This city was once a booming river town, located on the Galena River, and had its rise with the discovery of lead in the vicinity. But with the coming of the railroads in the 1850's, Galena declined and soon lost its position as a lead-producing center. Still standing, however, are the fine old mansions and houses of the men who made fortunes in the lead mines. These, as well as the Grant home, attract sight-seers to the city from near and far.

It was just after the close of the Civil War that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, who had helped win the war for the Union cause and who was therefore the hero of the day in the North, was presented with the spacious, two‑story brick residence in Galena that was in after-years to become a memorial to him. Here the Grants lived until 1868 when the General was elected President of the United States.

Just why a house in Galena should be chosen and presented to General Grant is easily explained. It was simply that Galena was Grant's city of adoption. He had gone there before the outbreak of the Civil War and at a time when he was low in funds and needed a job. For some years before this, he had served in the Army. Upon leaving the Army, he secured a $600‑a‑year job as clerk in a leather goods store operated by two of his younger brothers in Galena.

Still standing, this store, at 120 Main Street, is now one of the sights of Galena. Another is the modest home which Grant and his family occupied when they first came to Galena; when Grant was an obscure retired Army lieutenant. This dwelling is at 121 High Street, located on a hill slope above downtown Galena. Here Grant and his wife and four children were living when Lincoln was elected President and Fort Sumter was bombarded.

As a former professional soldier, one who had been graduated from  p189 West Point and who had fought in the Mexican War, the Galena store clerk offered his services to the War Department. Response to his offer was slow in coming. In the meantime, Grant trained volunteers for the Army and his drill ground was the lawn of the Elihu B. Washburne house in Galena. Subsequently, Grant was commissioned a colonel of the 21st Regiment of Illinois Infantry by Governor Yates. Thus began his Civil War career, a career that brought him international renown.

At the close of the war, when General Grant had accepted the gift mansion from the people of his adopted city, he found himself in possession of one of the show places of Galena. It had been built in 1857 by Alexander Jackson, an influential and successful citizen of the boom town. In obtaining it as a gift for General Grant, the citizens are said to have paid $15,000. This sum included the furnishings of the house.

"The new home was on a high hill across the river on the East side, almost opposite the first home," writes Florence Gratiot Bale in her Galena's Yesterdays. She continues: "The Grants established themselves  p190 in this sightly and comfortable house, and renewed the friendships of early days, and General Grant showed his intention of making it his permanent home by bringing his war trophies with him."

Mrs. Bale tells us that "people in the town entertained the Grants at dinners and other social affairs; all the ladies made formal calls on Mrs. Grant and once more the old town felt Grant was a citizen of Galena. His official duties took him to Washington and he was away a great deal of the time, but his legal home was always considered Galena. In 1868, his country gave him the greatest honor it can confer; he was elected President of the United States, and the family left their home and removed to the White House in Washington."

After the Grants left, the residence in Galena was occupied by H. H. Houghton and his wife. Mr. Houghton was editor of the Galena Gazette and at one time had been postmaster of the town. When Grant completed his second term as President, he and his family came back to the Galena mansion. Here he was living when, in 1880, he was prevailed upon to become a candidate for President once more. Upon losing the campaign to Garfield, ex-President Grant moved to New York. His last days were spent writing his Personal Memoirs, which became a best seller. He died July 23, 1885.

Following the departure of the Grants, their brick residence was rented to the Rev. Ambrose Smith, who was pastor of the South Presbyterian Church of Galena. Subsequently, the house was occupied by David Nash Corwith and his family and, later, by the C. C. Matheys. It was then given to the city in 1904.

The house today, open free to the public, is filled with furniture and other household belongings of the Grants. On the plate rail in the dining room are dishes which were used in White House during Grant's administration. This room also contains the silver used in the White House. The dining-table centerpiece was made by Mrs. Grant herself. It is an arrangement of bananas, oranges, pears, and grapes, carefully preserved in wax and still bright in their glass bell jar after more than three-quarters of a century.

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Page updated: 27 Nov 10