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Ulysses S. Grant home celebrates
100 years of public tours    
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[FEB. 14, 2004]  GALENA -- It sounds like an old joke -- "Who lived in Grant's Home?" For the past 100 years, many have discovered the answer by visiting the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena. 

The Grant Home is celebrating its 100th year as a public attraction, but those who visit in 2004 will find the house pretty much the same as visitors did in 1904. For that matter, the home has been virtually unchanged since 1865, when it was presented to the victorious Civil War general. And that's part of its attraction.

"The Ulysses S. Grant Home is a time machine that transports visitors back to one of the most important eras in our nation's history," said Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "For 100 years, generations of visitors from around the world have come to the Grant Home to learn and be inspired. The story of Grant, like that of Lincoln, is the tale of a self-made man who rose from a humble station in Illinois to become the leader of the greatest free nation in the world."

The elegant, bracketed Italianate style home was built on a Galena hilltop in 1860, and a group of citizens presented it to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Aug. 18, 1865. Grant, a struggling clerk, had left Galena in 1861 to join the Union Army and returned four years later a national hero. The home was presented to him as a gift by his grateful hometown.

Grant returned to Galena to campaign for the presidency, which he won in 1868. He visited Galena periodically until his death in New York in 1885. His home remained in family hands until the spring of 1904, when his children, Frederick, Ulysses Jr., "Nellie" and Jesse, deeded it to the city of Galena for $5, citing "fond recollections of our early home and in affectionate regard to the memory of our deceased parents."

The deed transfer stipulations were simple, but it was important for the home to be preserved and to be kept as nearly as possible as it was when Gen. Grant resided there, "with his pictures and furniture placed as then." The children also gave guidelines for the mayor to select a committee called the Grant Home Association to oversee the home.

The city of Galena opened the home to visitors, but by 1931 the city could no longer afford to maintain the property. It was deeded to the state of Illinois, which performed several restoration projects and has continued to keep the home open to the public. The Ulysses S. Grant Home is now operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

The Grant Home has survived several near-disasters over the years. A small chimney fire threatened the home in 1887, and a 1911 tornado tore off the roof, broke windows and stained wallpaper. But like its namesake, the Ulysses S. Grant Home always came back.


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A total of 991 people visited the Grant Home in 1905. That number reached 2,576 in 1910 and peaked at about 150,000 a year in the late 1980s, when it was open seven days per week year-round. The home and all other state-operated historic sites are now open only five days per week, due to budget constraints, but last year the Grant Home still had 68,908 visitors. It is the No. 1 historic tourist attraction in the Galena area, a portion of the state long renowned as a visitor destination.

The Ulysses S. Grant Home has hosted a number of prominent visitors over the years, several of whom were speakers at the annual Grant's Birthday observance held April 27 in Galena. These included William McKinley, governor of Ohio and soon-to-be U.S. president, in 1893; H.H. Kohlsaat, the intrepid publisher of the Chicago Times-Herald, who also unveiled a monument in Grant Park and the famous Thomas Nast painting "Peace in Union," in 1895; Theodore Roosevelt, the vice president who would become president after McKinley was assassinated, in 1900; presidential candidate and world-famous orator William Jennings Bryan, in 1905; and the first commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in 1918 and 1919.

Grant family members have periodically visited the Grant Home and Galena. Grant's daughter, Nellie, attended her late father's birthday celebration in 1898; retired Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant III, the president's grandson, toured the home in 1961; and more than 20 direct descendants celebrated the "Grant Family Reunion" in 2000.

Others also honor the memory of Ulysses S. Grant. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Grant Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Boy Scouts, Blackhawk Area Council. The event, entitled "Grant's Family Gift to Galena" this year, will draw thousands of scouts to Galena the last weekend in April.

Visitors in 2004 can see much the same Grant Home as 1904 visitors did. The home is completely restored and decorated with original Grant family furnishings. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for free public tours, and evening lamplight tours are also offered periodically during the year.

[Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
news release]

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