The Grant Cottage State Historic Site will be open to the public this summer despite the impending closing of the Mt. McGregor state prison.
“We have been assured there will be no impact on us for the 2014 tourist season,” said Tim Welch, president of the Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, the non-profit organization that staffs the mountaintop cottage where Grant completed his memoirs in 1885.
The cottage is open to the public from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekend. It drew about 5,000 visitors last year.
The medium-security prison is scheduled to close July 26, but as of last week it had no inmates left — all had been transferred to other prisons or released. About 77 staff remain, out of more than 300 who worked there when closing plans were announced by the Cuomo administration a year ago.
The cottage is located on the grounds of the prison, though it is managed as a historic site by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Visitors must pass the guarded prison gate to reach the cottage.
Welch said it’s his understanding that as the prison closes, the cottage property will be transferred from the Department of Corrections to state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The parks agency is also expected to take 1,100 acres of woods on the mountain that have been part of the prison grounds, and add them to Moreau Lake State Park.
State officials offered only general comments on the future of Grant Cottage.
“It is fair to say OPRHP is working with other state agencies to ensure that Grant Cottage State Historic Site remains open and welcoming to the public,” said state parks spokesman Dan Keefe.
Grant came to the cottage from New York City to complete his memoirs, and died there of throat cancer on July 23, 1885.
The cottage has been kept essentially unchanged, and visitors can tour its downstairs area, viewing the original furnishings, decorations and personal items belonging to Grant, including the bed where he died, and floral arrangements that remain from Grant’s funeral.
There is also a visitors’ center and a short path to a scenic overlook of the upper Hudson Valley.
A $5 fee to tour the cottage covers the cost of three part-time employees, Welch said.
Until now, the cottage’s utilities have been provided by the prison.
Welch said future planning will be needed to provide a source of electric power for the historic site, and there also needs to be new sources of water for drinking and fire protection.
The prison has drawn its water from Lake Bonita on the mountain, but without the volume of water used by the prison, that will be impractical, Welch said.
He also said provisions will need to be made for site security once the prison closes.
“One of the biggest issues is that our world-class security facility is going to go away when the guard shack closes,” Welch said.
He said the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is doing a security study.
The prison site itself is expected to be marketed for re-use by Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency.