Place

Hardscrabble: The House That Grant Built

The Hardscrabble log cabin with Howitzer cannons in the foreground.
"Hardscrabble" and Howitzers

NPS/David Newmann

Quick Facts

"I got out all my pretty covers, baskets, books, etc., and tried to make it look home-like and comfortable, but this was hard to do. The little house looked so unattractive that we facetiously decided to call it Hardscrabble."
- Julia Dent Grant


When Ulysses S. Grant resigned from the military in 1854, he longed to spend time with his wife Julia and their young children. His plans shifted to supporting his family by farming at the White Haven property. Grant cultivated 80 acres given to the couple as a wedding gift and managed the rest of the land owned by his father-in-law, Colonel Frederick Dent. With the help of the Dents’ enslaved laborers, Grant planted crops of potatoes and wheat, corded wood, harvested fruit from the orchards, and tended a vegetable garden. He was so dedicated to this future that he commented to a friend, “whoever hears of me in ten years will hear of a well-to-do old Missouri farmer.”

Establishing himself as a successful, independent farmer included the construction of his own house. Grant selected an elevated location close to his crops and about 100 feet from the road (the site of present-day St. Paul’s Cemetery). He began cutting, hewing, and notching logs for the cabin in the fall of 1855. Accustomed to the relative finery of her upbringing at White Haven, Julia lamented Ulysses’ decision to build a log cabin, not even “a neat frame house.” The next spring and summer, he set about digging a cellar and setting the stones for the foundation. Neighbors and enslaved laborers then assisted in the house raising. Grant completed much of the work himself, shingling the roof, building the stairs, and laying the floors.

The cabin was divided into four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs, with a hall running between them on both floors. Julia did her best to decorate the place, but even her standards of refinement could not conceal its rustic nature. Julia recalled that it was “so crude and homely I did not like it at all, but I did not say so. I got out all my pretty covers, baskets, books, etc., and tried to make it look home-like and comfortable, but this was hard to do. The little house looked so unattractive that we facetiously decided to call it Hardscrabble.”

Even though Hardscrabble was the first house that the Grants ever owned, they lived there for only a short time. Julia remembered moving in during September 1856 and living there only three months. At the request of Colonel Dent, Julia and Ulysses returned to White Haven when her mother died in January 1857. The little cabin never again served as the Grants’ domicile.

After the Grants vacated Hardscrabble the building acquired a history of its own. Due to its association with the famous General and President, it was dismantled and moved three times. In 1907 it was finally located on the property of present day "Grant’s Farm," which is owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch and adjacent to Ulysses S. Grant NHS.

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site

Last updated: December 19, 2020