Saturday, June 16, 2012

Grant Cottage, Wilton, NY

Grant Cottage
Mr. D. and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and decided to visit Grant Cottage, which is about forty minutes north of Albany on Mount McGregor (in Wilton).

Mount McGregor Correctional Facility
We were a little surprised to discover that the cottage shares the mountain with a prison; as you drive up, you stop and sign in with the prison guard (who was very nice and suggested a trip to Prospect Mountain as well - added to our summer to do list!). A recreational yard is within view of the cottage and we were even more surprised to be watching a game of prison basketball...definitely not on the original agenda! The correctional facility, which had former lives as a sanitarium (first for TB patients and later for WWII veterans) and a school for the developmentally disabled, opened in the 1970's. Before the prison, it was the site of the Hotel Balmoral, which burned in 1897. The cottage itself actually began at the site, but was moved downhill with the construction of Balmoral, which was so popular of a vacation spot it was even served by train!

The tour, which costs $5 per person, begins at the visitor's center, where a brief film about Grant and the Cottage is shown. Joseph W. Drexel invited Grant and his family to stay at the cottage as Grant struggled to complete his memoirs in a race against his mouth and throat cancer; after Grant died here, the cottage was preserved, with caretakers occupying the second floor and the first floor left as it was when Grant died. Chairs Grant brought with him from New York to sleep in still occupy the office; floral arrangements sent for his funeral sit in the home; effects of the President, including robes and hats, are on display, as is the bed in which he died. The clock, stopped at 8 past 8 by Grant's son, Frederick, still rests upon the mantle.

We considered ourselves especially lucky and one of the volunteer tour guides, Bob, sat on the porch with us for at least twenty minutes after the tour, telling us stories about Russian princesses (Princess Cantacuzène - Grant's first grandchild) fleeing the Russian Revolution, former sanitarium patients becoming caretakers, and even a Japanese caretaker of the cottage who was interned in the house rather than an internment camp (and who was able to get her sister's children to be interned with her after the sister died in a camp in California). If one does not yet exist, someone needs to write a novel based on the life of this cottage, the lives it has seen, and how they fit into the larger construct of US history.

Ridiculously cute older couple, hand in hand
There is a short path to a scenic overlook with gorgeous views and there are quite a few picnic tables clustered near the cottage, so bring a picnic lunch (though I'd suggest taking your lunch and a blanket to the overlook...much nicer scenery than a prison).

Make a day of it and check out Moreau Lake State Park or, as we did, run into Queensbury for some pineapple Dole Whip at Martha's Dandee.