Monday, September 23, 2019
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Grant Cottage State Historic Site atop Mount McGregor in Wilton: It’s a must-see!

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Ulysses S. Grant spent the final 36 days of his life at a cottage on top of a mountain, Mount McGregor, in Wilton between Saratoga Springs and South Glens Falls.

He was dying of throat cancer — and on a mission to finish volume two of his memoir, not just to detail for posterity how his Union Army won the Civil War but to provide for his then impoverished family.

The hero general and two-term U.S. President succeeded beyond bounds. His memoir — published by Mark Twain, who twice visited Grant at the cottage — is still in print today, and is widely regarded as the best presidential memoir ever written.

And it restored the Grant family’s prosperity, which Ulysses had lost to a Ponzi scheme. On the tour I took last Sunday, guide Diana O’Brien said Grant’s wife Julia was paid $450,000. Diana said that’s equivalent to $11-million today.

Businessman Joseph Drexel offered the Grant family free use of this cottage. It was July 1885. Grant’s doctors wanted him out of sweltering New York City, away to the cooler mountain air. Behind the cottage stood Drexel’s Balmoral Hotel, which was accessed by its own railway. In recent years the cottage still operated as a historic site, but the property around it was used as a state medium-security prison. Razor wire and fences still abound.

The house — a State Historic Site — is open inside only by private tour, included in the admission fee — which is adults $6, seniors $5, children 6 to 18 $5, free for kids under 5 and active military.

Judging by the tour I took — and another I briefly listened in on — they’re led by people, mostly volunteers, who take the task seriously and truly appreciate U.S. Grant.

Grant was beloved in his day as the general who saved the Union — and esteem for him has risen amid recent biographies that value his achievements and truth of purpose beyond a presidency that faltered.

Our guide Diana called Grant America’s second great Presidential champion of civil rights. She said Lincoln was the first and Lyndon Johnson was the third.

Grant Cottage is open Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day. Through Labor Day it’s open Wed. to Sun., 10 to 4, plus Tuesdays during racing season. Then it’s open Labor Day Monday and Sat.-Sun. 10 to 4 through and including Columbus Day.

Here are two of the many special events:

  • Sunday, July 21, 1 p.m. — Grant Remembrance Day will have reenactors depicting Grant, family and close friends.
  • Sunday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m. — A visit with General and Mrs. Grant.

Info: www.grantcottage.org/events

The room and bed where Ulysses S. Grant died at 8:07 in the morning on July 23, 1885. Grant used the bed only in his final hours; he’d been able to sleep only sitting up. At his death, his son Fred stopped the hands on the clock on the mantel, and it has remain unchanged. Note: The house and adjacent Balmoral Hotel did have electricity in 1885. Tour guide Diana O’Brien said the Balmoral and the del Coronado in San Diego were the nation’s only two hotels that were electrified at that time.

Grant slept sitting up between two chairs because his throat cancer prevented him from lying down.

On his better days, Grant would sit on the cottage porch reading a newspaper — and tip his top hat to countless well-wishers.

The panoramic east view from Mount McGregor is an attraction in itself. Grant was failing and had little mobility, but he did make it twice to the overlook. The view to the south now includes massive distribution warehouses, but to the northeast it’s largely uninterrupted, though farmland has given way to forest, a guide said.

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