Gen. Ulysses S. Grant resided for a short time at 3238 R Street NW at the close of the Civil War, but there is no evidence that Grant ever returned there during the summers of his presidency, and the characterization of the Scott-Grant House as “President Grant’s Summer White House” cannot be documented.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant accepted Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck’s offer to use his home in Georgetown, D.C. on May 18, was frequently out of town, and left Washington for an extended summer tour on July 24, 1865. (http://library.msstate.edu/usgrant/chronology.asp)
Ulysses Grant’s biographer, William S. McFeely, writes that, from 1867 onward, the Grants spent their summers at a cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey which had been put at their disposal by Philadelphia newspaper publisher George W. Childs, industrialist George Pullman, and bank magnate Moses Taylor. (McFeely, Grant: A Biography, 1981, pp. 232, 261)
If any president had favored Georgetown as a summer retreat, it would surely have been mentioned in the Georgetown Courier, a four page weekly that served the city of Georgetown from 1865 to 1874; its promotion of local interests was unflagging, and its editor lost no opportunity to extol Georgetown’s advantages. Instead, there is only this: “The president to be at Long Branch the coming summer.” (Georgetown Courier, April 22, 1871)
It also says something that Mary Mitchell––a careful student of Georgetown houses, and a close reader of the Evening Star and the Georgetown Courier––did not think the “Summer White House“ story merited inclusion in Chronicles of Georgetown Life, 1865-1900 (1986).
The only reference in the Georgetown Courier to the house at 3238 R Street appears to have been in 1871.“Thursday afternoon Thomas Dowling, auctioneer, sold at auction, on the premises, the brick dwelling situated on the Heights, adjoining the reservoir, and at one time occupied as a private residence by General Grant.“ The house was ”knocked down to Mr. Thomas L. Hume, for the sum of $15,900.” (Georgetown Courier, June 24, 1871; Rebecca B. Scott to T.L. Hume, for $15,900, DC Liber 657, f.445).
For the next three years Hume had a tenant: according to the directories for 1872-1874, this was James Plaister Harriss Gastrell, Second Secretary to the British Legation. When Gastrell’s tour of duty was up, the Courier contained the announcement of an auction of furniture “at the residence of Hon. J.P. Harris Gastrell, British Legation, Road Street, Georgetown Heights, being the House formerly occupied by President Grant.” A week later the house was advertised for sale or rent: “The very desirable Residence…formerly occupied by President Grant and recently by J. Harris Gastrell, of the British Legation…apply to T.L. Hume of Hall & Hume, Grocers, 807 Pa. Av.” (Georgetown Courier, April, 18, 25, 1874) (3238 R Street ceased being a rental in 1877, when T.L. Hume sold the house to Calvin V. Graves.)
It would, of course, have been more accurate to say that the house had been occupied by Grant before he was president. These details were still remembered in 1889: “The house is not ancient, however, and its chief interest to the public is that during the days immediately following the war Gen. Grant spent a few months under its sheltering roof. The writer of these lines remembers riding by it at that time and seeing him sitting in the yard with Gens. Rawlins, Sherman, Logan and other military heroes, almost hid by the cloud of smoke which each one was helping to make, for these were the days when the general smoked countless cigars.” Eight years later there was a fire in the house “formerly occupied by Gen. U.S. Grant.” (Evening Star, September 21, 1889; February 24, 1897)
A promotional folder of the Miller and Shoemaker Real Estate Company, issued circa 1903, muddied the water by implying that Grant had owned the house: “After General Grant gave up his residence in Georgetown his mansion became the property of the Joyce family.“ (3238 R Street vertical file, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library)
Although the press was still more or less in possession of the facts in 1932, a gratuitous reference to “summer” sowed the seeds of future confusion. “Another residence occupied by Gen. Grant, which was probably used during the summer months before he became President, is at 3238 R street N.W.” The photo is captioned “Summer Home of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, 3238 R street northwest.” (John Clagett Proctor, Star Sunday Magazine, p.6, September 4, 1932)
By 1938, when it was asserted that 3238 R Street had been “occupied by President Grant as the summer White House” (Star, March 20, 1938), the damage was done. “So when the Washington heat became too uncomfortable President Grant adjourned to the nearby suburb, where a large rectangular brick structure at what is now 3238 R street was known as the Summer White House.” (Dudley Harmon, “Georgetown Invites Capital Public for a Visit to Its Historic Homes”, Washington Post, April 3, 1938, p.B7)
Since 1938, that is the story that has prevailed––“From 1870 to 1874 it was known as the Summer White House” (The Georgetowner, July 2, 1970); and it has even gone on to acquire something like the force of law: “during summers while [Grant] was President, the house then being known as the ‘Summer White House.’“ (94th Congress, 1st Session, House Joint Resolution 576, July 18, 1975).
President Grant’s Real Summer Cottage
An undated postcard shows the Grant cottage, at 995 Ocean Avenue, Long Branch, New Jersey.
President and Mrs. Grant, with their son Jesse, at Long Branch, 1872 .
The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant show that President Grant was en route to, or at, Long Branch, New Jersey, by the following dates: July 15, 1869; July 21, 1870; June 1, 1871; June 11, 1872; July 3, 1873; July 4, 1874; June 15, 1875; July 9, 1875; August 19,1876.
The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Ulysses S. Grant Association (John Y. Simon, editor);
a chronology extracted from The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant is available at: http://library.msstate.edu/usgrant/chronology.asp
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