In August 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant returned home to Galena, Illinois following the conclusion of the Civil War. Earlier that summer, several prominent citizens of Galena had pooled their money and purchased a five year old red brick Italianate home, which they presented as a gift to Grant upon his return. It was a step up from the smaller home the Grants had rented when they first moved to Galena in 1860.
At that time, Grant was a former Army officer who had struggled with finding a financially sound career as a civilian in and around St. Louis, Missouri. In 1860, Grant’s father Jesse offered Ulysses a job with his successful tannery and leather goods business in Galena, which he accepted. The Grant family took a steamboat north from St. Louis to Galena, which at that time was a major center of trade and port city on the Galena River, which empties into the Mississippi River a short distance away. The Grants rented a house in town and Ulysses went to work in the tannery. In June 1861, Grant was given command of the 21st Illinois Infantry, and left for the war.
The Grants lived in the new home from 1865 through 1868, when Ulysses was elected President of the United States. Over the years, he would stay in the home when he returned to Galena. In 1904, Grant’s children deeded the home to the City of Galena to be maintained as a memorial to the general and 18th U.S. President. Ownership was transferred to the State of Illinois in 1931, and today it is administered as an Illinois State Historic Site. It is also a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The home contains many pieces of furniture and other items that belonged to the Grants during their time in Galena. Guided tours are conducted Wednesday through Sunday year round. Grant’s prewar Galena home is privately owned and not open for tours.
A few blocks from the Grant Home is the home of Elihu Washburne, another Galena resident of Civil War importance. Washburne was a U.S. Congressman, and friend and confidant to both Grant and President Abraham Lincoln. Washburne had helped advance Grant’s military career in an age when military appointments and promotions were often influenced by politics. On Election Day, 1868, Washburne had telegraph lines run to his house so he and Grant could get the latest vote counts. Grant was in Washburne’s home when he learned he had won the election.
Washburne’s Greek Revival style home is more elaborate than Grant’s home, and it too is an Illinois State Historic Site. The Washburne Home is only open for tours on Fridays from May to October.