WILTON — The mountaintop “cottage” where former President Ulysses S. Grant completed his acclaimed memoirs in a race against a fatal cancer 135 years ago has been recommended for National Historic Landmark status.
The Department of the Interior’s National Historic Landmark Committee, holding a virtual meeting Wednesday in Washington, D.C., unanimously approved the recommendation, which still must be approved by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
Tim Welch, president of the Friends of Grant Cottage, said he was thrilled by the vote, a critical development in a six-year effort to get national landmark status for the cottage.
The cottage sits atop Mt. McGregor, roughly where the towns of Moreau, Corinth and Wilton converge. The cottage is actually located in Moreau, but access to it is from Wilton. The site is owned by New York state and already has State Historic Site status.
Approval of national landmark status would qualify the site, which is managed by the non-profit friends group, for federal historic preservation grants, as well as National Park Service promotion. The first funding priority, which Welch spoke to the committee about by video link, will be to install a modern fire suppression system in the 150-year-old wooden cottage at an estimated cost of $300,000.
“I also believe it will have a very practical impact and draw national attention to us,” Welch said.
The cottage, which has been alone in the mountain since the Mt. McGregor state prison closed six years ago, is where Grant — the Union’s most acclaimed general during the Civil War and president of the United States from 1869 to 1876 — completed his military memoirs in the summer of 1885, knowing he was dying of throat cancer.
Acclaimed author Mark Twain, a friend of Grant’s, encouraged and published the book, by which Grant sought to provide for his family after he fell victim to a Wall Street financial swindler, losing what money he had.
The cottage was the private summer residence of New York City financier Joseph W. Drexel, who lent it to Grant. Grant stayed there and worked on his memoirs from June 16, 1885, until his death on July 23, four days after proofreading was completed.
“The furnishings in the cottage remain the same as they did during Grant’s six-week stay,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wrote in an Aug. 28 letter supporting the designation. “In addition, the intricate floral arrangements from Grant’s funeral are still on display. Steps away from the cottage, visitors can take in the breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Catskills, just as Grant did in 1885.”
Grant was once considered by historians to be among the worst presidents, but his historic reputation has been on the rise in recent years, following a sympathetic biography by historian Ron Chernow and reconsideration of his role in promoting Reconstruction and racial equality in the post-war South.
This spring, a Civil War mini-series called “Grant,” drawn in part from Chernow’s research, was broadcast on the History Channel, and each episode included a 90-second spot talking about and promoting Grant’s Cottage. It has generated traffic to the cottage’s website and brought a stream of visitors, though visitation is currently limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
‘”That has been a tremendous boost for us,” Welch said.
Legislators including Schumer and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, wrote letters to the Department of the Interior in favor of the National Historic Landmark designation.
“Major General (and later President) Grant has an important place in American history, and his cottage deserves to be recognized among the other historical locations in upstate New York,” Stefanik wrote in her letter.
About 7,500 people per year have been visiting the site. Welch said there’s been a lot of new visitation due to the History Channel series and tours are sold out a week in advance. However, overall attendance is being held down by COVID-19 restrictions, which limit to four the number of people who can be inside the historic cottage at one time.