Historic Ulysses S. Grant home moving from fairgrounds to Eastern Market

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
The boarded-up home where President Ulysses S. Grant lived from April 1849 to May 1850 will move from the former state fairgrounds in Detroit to the Eastern Market area.

Detroit — A former home of Ulysses S. Grant, the leader of Civil War Union forces who became the 18th U.S. president, is moving to Eastern Market later this year with plans to revive it after years of sitting idle and neglected in the former Michigan State Fairgrounds. 

The two-story white clapboard house was last used as a storage facility when the fairgrounds closed in 2008. As recently as April 2018, the windows of the home were boarded up, some walls had holes and several rooms and had piles of trash. In the second-floor bedroom, there was a dirty waterbed.

Later this year, tentatively in August, the Julia and Ulysses S. Grant home will be moved to the corner of Orleans and Wilkins street, thanks to efforts by the State of Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, the state of Michigan History Center and the Eastern Market Corp., which is the nonprofit that manages the historic market. 

Sometime early next decade, the home will become a public education and resource center. 

“This will not be a traditional house museum,” said Sandra Clark director the Michigan History Center in Lansing. “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.”

The new location is part of the Eastern Market garden project, which will include gardens and a small orchard. The setting will complement the house, whose major attraction – according to a letter Ulysses sent to Julia – was “a garden filled with the best kind of fruit ... a long arbour grown over with vines that will bear fine grapes in abundance for us and to give away ... currents [sic] and plum & peach trees.”

Moving, securing and renovating the house for public use are expected to take one to two years. The Michigan State Housing and Development Authority,  provided a grant to support the move  Getting the house in shape to move as well as actually moving it may cost up to $200,000, Clark said. Fundraising efforts to restore the home are still underway and could be amount to another $200,000, Clark said. 

“It’s one of the oldest surviving structures in the city of Detroit,” said Dan Austin, author of several books about Detroit history and founder of the website HistoricDetroit.org. Grant is one of three presidents known to have lived in Michigan. The others are Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, stationed briefly at Naval Air Station Grosse Ile at the end of World War II.

Grant, who was born and raised in Ohio, lived in the home with his wife, Julia Dent, from April 1849 to May 1850. It was built either in 1836 or 1837 — historical references differ — and its original location was at 253 E. Fort, near Russell and Rivard streets in the area now known as Lafayette Park. At the time Grant lived there, military barracks were located at Russell and Clinton.

The home was saved from demolition in 1936 when the Michigan Mutual Liability Co. insurance company bought it and presented it as a gift to the fairgrounds. The home was relocated in 1958 within the grounds to its current spot. 

This summer, the Michigan History Center will host a series of community meetings with educators, Eastern Market residents and business owners, historians and others interested in generating ideas for the home’s use.


Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN