The first European settlement of the White Haven property dates back to more than 200 years ago, when St. Louis was a part of the Louisiana Territory under Spanish rule. A settler named Hugh Graham purchased roughly 680 acres of land in September 1796 that would include the future White Haven property. Scottish fur trader James Mackey bought the property three years later and owned it through 1811, when William Lindsay Long of Virginia purchased the property. Long and his enslaved laborers began constructing the original two-story portion of what would become White Haven between 1812 and 1816.
U.S. Naval Officer Theodore Hunt and his wife Ann Lucas Hunt purchased White Haven and lived at the main home from 1818 to 1820, adding an office space to the back of the house. They soon tired of life on a farm, however, and sold the property to “Colonel” Frederick F. Dent, a prosperous merchant originally from Maryland who dreamed of owning a plantation and living the lifestyle of an elite slaveholding Southerner. White Haven initially functioned as a summer residence for the Dents, but Col. Dent loved the property so much that it was eventually made into a full-time residence. He added a sitting room to the house in the 1830s, numerous outbuildings in the 1840s and 1850s, and at some point a guest room was that constructed adjacent to the office space. Dent also expanded his investments in both property and enslaved laborers. By 1850 he owned 850-acres of land and upwards of thirty enslaved African Americans who did most of the work on the main home and surrounding property.
The Dent family owned White Haven until 1865, when struggling finances and excessive debt forced a sale of the property. Col. Dent’s son-in-law Ulysses S. Grant began purchasing portions of the property in 1866 and eventually assumed full ownership. While President, Grant aimed to use White Haven as an occasional vacation spot and a place to raise his horses. While the Grant family never lived at the main home on a permanent basis after the Civil War, they owned it for almost twenty years until shortly before Grant’s death in 1885. Several caretakers lived in the main house and cared for the surrounding property while the Grants were away.
White Haven would have six different owners over the next one-hundred years. During this time the house was modernized with indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, electricity, and a sunroom. Several rooms were heavily modified and the first floor porch deck was replaced at least three times. In 1986 the last private owner of White Haven, Bill Wenzlick, sold the property to St. Louis County for $510,000. In 1989, legislation was passed by Congress and signed by President George H.W. Bush authorizing the National Park Service to acquire the White Haven home and remaining 10 acres.