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On Ulysses Grant’s birthday, a new development for Grant’s Cottage in Saratoga County

Grant Cottage
Lucas Willard
Grant Cottage

President Ulysses Grant’s bicentennial was celebrated today in Saratoga County. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was at Grant Cottage — which is now a National Historic Landmark.

A flag ceremony performed by the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War was held atop Mount McGregor to mark the 200th birthday of the Union Army general and the nation’s 18th president.

The now 150-year-old cottage where Grant raced to finish his bestselling memoirs at the end of his life was named a state historic site in 1890.

But it wasn’t until last year, following a push from federal officials, that the national historic landmark status was granted. A plaque that will be mounted outside the cottage was unveiled Wednesday to make it official. Ben Kemp, a member of the Friends of the Grant Cottage, read from the marker that makes specific mention of Grant’s writings.

“’Grant’s clear, conversational writing style influenced the work of later generations of autobiographical writers. National Parks Service, Department of the Interior, designated 2021.’ So we are very proud to be recognized by the National Parks Service in this way,” said Kemp.

The property that straddles the town lines of Moreau and Wilton is also home to a former state correctional facility that closed in 2014. As the state continues to market the facility for potential reuse, the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation also announced today that the fences would come down around a section of state-owned land adjacent to the cottage.

Alane Ball Chinian, Saratoga Region Director for State Parks, said four state agencies came together to provide access to the property.

“I’m pleased to announce we have can have access to that four acres. Yay!” The Friends of the Grant Cottage group wants to see additional parking and a pavilion at the site for events.

Tim Welch is Chair of the Friends of Grant Cottage Board of Trustees.

“So we have a great story to tell here. And one of the reasons we wanted the ball field was to be able to create a pavilion to replace the visitors’ center, which has become somewhat [inadequate] because we’re doing so well,” said Welch. “We have routinely brought 7,500 people here.” What was once a facilities garage for the prison has been turned into a the visitors center and gift shop, and is in the process of getting a new roof.

Visitors to the cabin can find a space that has been maintained to resemble the appearance of where Grant spent the last weeks of his life. A clock marks the hour of his death -- 8:08 a.m., July 23rd 1885 – and flower arrangements from his funeral still occupy the first floor.

The wooden cottage itself, painted yellow with a wraparound porch, will get a fire suppression system at the end of the season that begins this weekend.

In addition to celebrating the 200th birthday of President Grant, the ceremony Wednesday also paid tribute to the nation’s veterans. Vietnam veteran and former New York State Senator Roy McDonald was among the speakers. The former Wilton town supervisor appealed to the crowd, saying he and his fellow Vietnam vets did not receive a warm welcome home.

“Make sure they get education, make sure they get taken care of from health issues – that we heard from – and make sure that they know that you’re appreciating what they’re doing. So if I leave one thing, thank God for the American military. All you have to do is go home and turn on the television, and we’re there.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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