The Detroit home once inhabited by the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, who died 135 years ago yesterday, has been sliced in two horizontally in preparation for a carefully choreographed 15-mile move across town. Once properly settled at its new(est) site in the Eastern Market neighborhood, workers will reattach the bifurcated abode’s first and second floors atop a new foundation. The 1835 structure will ultimately be restored and used as a public education center operated by the Michigan History Center.
As detailed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the second floor of the home was detached earlier this month as part of a five-hour process that largely entailed “thorough and safe preparation and inspection.” The crane-assisted lift itself only took 15 minutes. Work at the site first kicked off last October with additional work being carried out in May in preparation for this month’s much anticipated separation, a move that will make it easier (less traffic signals and overhead cables will need to be temporarily removed) for the home to be transported from its current location at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds at Woodward Road and Eight Mile Road to the corner of Orleans and Wilkins Street.
Both halves of the home, one of the oldest still-standing residences in the state of Michigan, will remain at the fairgrounds until site work, including the preparation of a new foundation of the building, is complete in Eastern Market. The move itself is due to take place later this summer.
Born in Ohio, Grant, a skilled equestrian who served as a victorious commander in the Union Army prior to his historically lukewarm two-term presidency, isn’t known for his Detroit associations outside of, well, Detroit. And even then, Grant’s pre- mid-19th century stint in Motor City isn’t common knowledge.
As detailed by Historic Detroit, a nonprofit website dedicated to the city’s historic built environment, Grant and his wife Julia, newlyweds at the time, rented the home for only just over a year—from April 1849 to May 1850— while he was serving as a regimental quartermaster with the 4th infantry. In an 1849 letter written to Julia before she joined her fresh-out-of-West Point husband in Detroit, he described the property as a “neat little house” with a “neat double parlor” and a “nice upstairs and a garden filled with the best kind of fruit.” The couple also lived in another house in Detroit for a short spell but it has since been demolished.
The small wood-sided home, which was once open to the public as a period-decorated attraction at the Michigan State Fair, has been moved a small handful of times during its existence. It was originally built on East Ford Road between Russell and Rivard Streets, an Eastern Market-abutting area that’s now the northern section of Lafayette Park. In 1938, the home was threatened with demolition, and realizing its historic significance, the Michigan Mutual Liability Co. had it moved to the fairgrounds. It was moved again within the fairgrounds to its present site in 1958. Various other plans to relocate the structure, boarded-up and in disrepair since 2008, from the now-shuttered fairgrounds, which were divvied up and sold to developers in 2019 and more recently used as a coronavirus testing site, haven’t panned out. The Michigan History Center-spearheaded idea to move the home to Eastern Market has been kicking around for several years, and just this past March the state organization secured moving permits; the relocation’s progress, however, has been delayed by the pandemic and other factors before that.
While prep work and the move itself is being financed through a grant provided by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, $500,000 in additional funding is needed to restore and reopen the building as a public educational resource. The Michigan History Foundation is leading private fundraising efforts to reach this goal. .
One restored and opened to the public at Eastern Market, the Grant home will serve as “a new resource for residents, schoolchildren and visitors” and not a “traditional house museum,” as Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, explained in a press statement last year when the relocation was first announced. “Our hope is to make it a place to explore Grant’s life and the impact he made on Detroit while living here and in his later actions as a Civil War General and U.S. president.”
It is worth noting that there are already several Grant-related historic house museums across the country including the Ulysses S. Grant Home in Galena, Illinois; the Grant Birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio; the Grant Boyhood Home in Georgetown, Ohio; and the Grant Cottage State Historic Site in Moreau, New York.
Grant’s legacy, similar to the complicated legacies of other historic American figures, has been a frequent topic in recent weeks. At least one statue of likeness, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, has been toppled as part of the ongoing civil rights protests, an action that some have said is misguided (among other things, Grant defeated the Confederate Army and rallied against the Ku Klux Klan) and others have deemed as appropriate (Grant held a slave prior to the start of Civil War and enacted disastrous, deadly policies against Native Americans).