Mount McGregor was named after lumberman Duncan McGregor, who owned 1,000 of its acres and built Grant's cottage to accommodate high rollers from Saratoga Springs around 1878, Trimm writes in "Saving Grant Cottage," a 63-page book the friends group published this year. A friend of Grant's, a wealthy Gilded Age banker named Joseph Drexel, offered Grant refuge there when he heard about his diagnosis.
Drexel had built the elegant, 300-room Balmoral Hotel near the mountain house in 1884. Instead of tearing the cottage down after Grant's death, Drexel's widow, Lucy Wharton Drexel, and a business associate transferred ownership to a newly formed Mount McGregor Memorial Association, which consisted primarily of Union Army veterans.
More than 15,000 people visited the cottage during its first year, according to Trimm, and it was a strong draw for decades. In 1907, 10,000 aging Union vets met in Saratoga Springs, and most made the trip to the cabin to pay tribute to Grant.
In 1912, the Metropolitan Insurance Company purchased the Balmoral property and built an elaborate sanitarium hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis. The state took over the hospital in the 1960s and turned it into a school and then Mount McGregor jail, which remains oddly juxtaposed with the historic cottage.
Visitors to the cottage next year will continue to pay $5 each to fund the site's maintenance. Next summer figures to be a big year on the mountain because it marks the 150th anniversary of several major battles. The friends group has signed up Grant's great-great-grandson, Ulysses S. Grant Dietz of Newark N.J., to visit the cottage and speak in Canfield Casino to raise money for its future.