Before being elected as president of the United States, and before becoming a General in the Union Army against the Confederates in the Civil War, young Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant served as a quartermaster living in Detroit from 1849-1851. The Grant House at the Michigan State Fairgrounds was a popular attraction for many years. The house was originally located on Fort Street near Livernois Avenue. Grant and his new wife were well-known around town and quite sociable.
Little is known about Grant during his brief time in Detroit. Colonel James Pitman offers the most complete picture of Grant’s character. Pitman writes “U.S. Grant was at that time a familiar figure in Detroit society. A man as well known as any residing in the city at that time.” One small bit of evidence exists in the collection of the Detroit Historical Society that proves a little of Pittman’s opinion of Grant’s stature in the community. On January 10, 1851, Grant signed a deposition claiming that Antoine Beaubien Jr. failed to clear the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of his house on Jefferson Avenue at Antoine Street.
According to Ulysses Grant’s published papers, a similar charge on the same date claimed that Detroit Mayor Zachariah Chandler–also on Jefferson Avenue near Antoine Street–neglected snow and ice removal from his sidewalk. During a trial before a jury, Mayor Chandler exclaimed “If you soldiers would keep sober, perhaps you would not fall on people’s pavements and hurt your legs.” The jury found in favor of Grant and Chandler was fined six cents. Oddly, Chandler would later be appointed by President Grant as Secretary of the Interior in 1875.
This small artifact portrays Grant as a trustworthy and honorable figure in the city yet a man of conviction and nerve. So take a public service announcement from Ulysses S. Grant and keep the snow and ice off your sidewalk this winter. – A.L.