WILTON, N.Y. (AP) — Admirers of Union Army Gen. Ulysses S. Grant are building a museum atop Mount McGregor in Saratoga County to better tell the dramatic history of the peak and the nation's 18th president who worked and died there.
After the Civil War, the victorious Grant became a two-term president who enjoyed visiting nearby Saratoga Springs. But by 1885, the war hero faced financial ruin and death from throat cancer. On the advice of doctors, he escaped New York City and arrived at an airy Wilton mountain house on June 16, 1885.
Grant wanted to complete an autobiography to support his family. Despite extreme exhaustion and pain, the "Savior of the Union" finished the memoir in five weeks, just days before he died. His short but important stay enshrined the cabin and put Mount McGregor on the nation's map. In the years following the general's death, Civil War veterans made pilgrimages up the hill to pay their respects to the war effort and their leader.
"This became like the Vietnam War Memorial for Civil War vets, who would visit to try to come to terms with their war experiences," said Melissa Trombley-Prosch, a founding director of the board of the Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage.
Founded in 1989, the volunteer group operates the cottage, a state historic site that survived a fire at a nearby hotel in 1897, the opening of a neighboring state correctional facility and a move by the state to close it in 1985 after annual attendance dipped to 300.
This year, on the 150th anniversaries of some of Grant's wartime achievements, attendance at the cottage between Memorial and Columbus days spiked past 4,300 — a modern record. That has encouraged board members, who recently raised nearly $10,000 to redesign its stone and wood visitors' center, located near the cottage.
The original structure was built in 1913, and the friends group took possession of it in 2006, converting it to a visitors' center. They hired Lucille Millarson, a creative designer from Saratoga Springs, who is helping to remake the center into the U.S. Grant Museum with improved visual displays, a theater area and a gift shop.
Visitors to the cottage start walking tours in the visitors' center. The new displays will better explain Grant's Civil War exploits, terms as president and "final battle" in which he penned his memoirs on the mount, Friends of Grant Cottage President Tim Welch said.
Under Grant's leadership, the Union Army defeated Confederate forces and kept the nation intact. Grant negotiated and accepted the South's surrender from Gen. Robert E. Lee, and became president four years later.
The Civil War commander visited Saratoga Springs, a popular resort town in the 19th century, the year the Civil War ended in 1865, and twice as president. He arrived in 1869 and stayed in the old Union Hotel, and visited in 1874 for crew races on Saratoga Lake, said Trombley-Prosch, who wrote narratives for five new double-sided panels in the museum.