Former home of Ulysses S. Grant heads to new site at Detroit's Eastern Market

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A beloved piece of Michigan history — the former home of Ulysses S. Grant — was lifted Thursday from the old Michigan State Fairgrounds for a move to Eastern Market. 

The decaying home, once occupied by the 18th U.S. president who led Civil War Union forces, is being relocated to the northeast corner of Orleans and Wilkins where it will be revived.  

"We want it to be a living space that really celebrates the legacy of Grant and all of the work throughout his entire life," Tobi Voigt, an engagement director with the Michigan History Center, said Thursday morning just before two sections of the house headed down State Fair Street on Detroit's east side. 

The two-story white clapboard house was last used as a storage facility when the fairgrounds closed in 2008. The house has long sat neglected with its windows boarded.

The move was arranged under a partnership of the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the state of Michigan History Center and Eastern Market Corp., the nonprofit that manages the historic market. 

When it arrives Thursday, the first story of the house will be put on footings and the foundation will then built up around it. Officials said the second level is expected to be placed on top in about a week. 

The house is expected to be used as a public education center. The specifics are still being being debated. Officials expect to engage residents, businesses and cultural institutions as well as Civil War enthusiasts.

The Julia and Ulysses S. Grant home travels across Woodward at State Fair on Thursday, August 20, 2020. The structure built in the 1830s on Detroit’s east side is moved from the former Michigan State Fairgrounds to Eastern Market.

The move had been anticipated last year, but the arduous process was delayed. Three permits were required to facilitate the move, the city's acquisition of land at the fairgrounds site and the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role, Voigt said.

The new location is part of the Eastern Market garden project, which will include gardens and a small orchard. 

The Michigan State Housing and Development Authority provided grant funding to support the move. Restoration costs have been pegged at upwards of $200,000.

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 in the 1830s 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 move comes after Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last week announced the potential $9 million sale of 142 acres at the former fairgrounds site at Eight Mile and Woodward. 

Amazon is looking at the fairgrounds property as a potential location for a distribution center that the city has said could create 1,200 jobs. The state land bank sold the acreage to Detroit last year for $7 million. 

The Grant 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.

It had been in its most recent spot since 1958.

"He's my hero," Laura Raisch of the Michigan History Foundation said Thursday. "Ulysses S. Grant and his what, what they did, who they were, is just a fantastic story to be told."