A house Ulysses S. Grant lived in during his time in Detroit is being evicted from the State Fairgrounds and will be hauled clear across town this summer, likely near Eastern Market.
The house was built in 1837, making it one of the oldest structures in the city. For decades, the house was furnished in period styles and opened to the public as an attraction during the annual State Fair. But now that the fairgrounds are closed and the state is selling the land to developers, Grant’s one-time digs have to go.
The state has been in talks about moving the house to the Detroit Edison Public School Academy’s campus on St. Aubin, near Gratiot, but it’s not quite a done deal. Representatives of the state, the school and architects on the project met at DEPSA on Wednesday to continue discussions.
“Details are still being finalized, but we are honored to bring this historic project to the DEPSA campus,” Ralph Bland, the school’s superintendent, said in a statement.
The house will definitely be moved, likely this summer, and will stay in Detroit, said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan Historical Center, which is taking the lead for the state on the home’s relocation.
There’s also no final agreement on what the house will become, but one thing is clear: This won’t be a shrine to Grant just filled with his things and photos.
“Today, we’re thinking differently about historical homes and what’s the best use for them,” said Clark. The idea is to make “them an active educational tool for the school and the public, an interactive way to learn about the history of Detroit. … We want to put history to work, if you will.”
Grant was a young Army officer just four years out of West Point when he was transferred to the Detroit Barracks as regimental quartermaster of the 4th Infantry in the spring of 1849. Detroit was a tiny town at the time — with only 21,000 people. The future U.S. president and Civil War hero and his wife, Julia Dent Grant, lived in the house from April 1849 through May 1850, according to Kimberly Johnson, a Michigan Historic Commission member who has researched the Grants’ time in Detroit. Another house that the Grants lived in during a later time in Detroit was demolished long ago.
Jack Dempsey of Plymouth, president of the Michigan Historical Commission, has been working for years to save the historic structure, which has sat unused and neglected.
“Grant is an iconic figure in American history, a man who, before the Civil War, didn’t have much success, but he went on to become the highest-ranking general in the war and saved the union,” Dempsey said. “There are a whole number of Grant structures around the country, and Michigan is the only state that has treated one of them like this.”
The fact that Grant is one of only two presidents to live in Michigan — Gerald R. Ford being the other — makes saving the house even more worthwhile, Dempsey said. Moving the home to near its original location is an added bonus.