The cottage where President Ulysses S. Grant spent his final days still stands in Saratoga County. Supported by a group of volunteers and New York State Parks, the site is now getting a push for National Historic Landmark status from Senator Charles Schumer.
Destitute and stricken with cancer of the throat, the former president and Civil War general spent the final weeks of his life racing to finish the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant at the cottage atop Mount McGregor.
Grant’s well-regarded memoirs were published by Mark Twain in 1885 shortly after Grant’s death. They became a best-seller.
But later, Grant gained a bad reputation – a drunk, a butcher, corrupt.
Visiting Grant Cottage on Monday, New York Senator Charles Schumer said he asked Grant biographer Ron Chernow about Grant’s perceived character.
“And I asked him, so how did his reputation get so bad, given your book? And here’s what he said: the revisionist Southern historians in the late 19th and early 20th century – and he gave me their names and I forgot them – but they hated Grant because he was such a successful general. And they totally turned history around,” said Schumer.
The Grant Cottage is preserved nearly exactly as it would have looked in 1885. The furniture and carpets are original. A clock is still stopped at 8:08, the time of Grant’s death.
Schumer is pushing the National Park Service put the Grant Cottage on the National Register of Historic Places. Such sites are eligible for federal funding. The Democratic Senator says the process could take some time.
“I think that it’s a very important thing to do. I’m excited to get it done. It’ll take a while. We have a lot Grant enthusiasts in the Senate and the House. And I will enlist them to make sure that the cottage becomes the landmark it so deserves to be,” said Schumer.
The property is maintained by volunteers with the Friends of Grant Cottage. Friends President Tim Welch said the group has concerns about the remoteness of the location. The Mount McGregor Correctional Facility, located just a stone’s throw from the cottage, was shuttered five years ago. The cottage is closed during the winter months.
Welch says the Friends group is hoping National Historic Landmark status would support a fire-suppression system for the cottage.
“When it’s snowing, this is a terrible road to try to navigate. And if, God forbid, a fire ever occurred up here, they’d never be able to get up here before something terrible happened,” said Welch.
Welch says the story of the Grant Cottage needs to be told.
“It’s very nice to say you’re a National Historic Landmark. Now, we are a very important place. And there aren’t a lot of Civil War-connected places in New York state. But the guy who won the Civil War spent the last six weeks of his life here and turning poverty into an $11 million, successful best-selling book…and we just have to get word out there. And the National Park Service would help us do that,” said Welch.
The status would also provide a boost to the local tourism economy, says Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus.
“People are absolutely interested in the history – whether it’s the architecture downtown, whether it’s the [Saratoga] Battlefield, whether it’s Grant Cottage – so getting that on the National Registry definitely helps,” said Shimkus.
The Grant Cottage State Historic Site is open for tours Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.