ST. LOUIS — Before he became a famous general who led the Union to victory in the Civil War, before he became the 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant farmed in St. Louis County.
Grant worked his farm, located just outside St. Louis, during the 1850s.
“He had crops of potatoes, wheat and cord wood he sold in the city,” says Andy Elmore, general manager of Grant’s Farm.
Owned by the Busch family for more than 100 years, Grant’s Farm has been a popular St. Louis destination for generations, a place people can go to enjoy the outdoors, meet a variety of animals and embrace the history of the region.
Ulysses Grant’s roommate at West Point military academy was Fred Dent, from St. Louis, and Grant later met Fred’s daughter, Julia Dent. They fell in love and got married after the Mexican-American War.
“On the occasion of their wedding, they got some farmland from her dad’s estate,” says Tracy Lauer, Anheuser-Busch archives manager.
After Grant left the Army in 1854, he returned to St. Louis County to farm the land, living with his family in a log cabin on the farm.
“He was pretty hands on,” Lauer says.
The Grants intended to retire to the farm after his time as president, but they later decided to take up residence in New York to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
In 1903, August Busch Sr. purchased 281 acres that included the original tract Ulysses Grant had farmed. The Busch family called it Grant’s Farm.
The Busch family built a mansion on the farm in 1910, and for decades the farm remained a private residence. That changed in the 1950s, in a story that involves some of St. Louis’ biggest institutions.
The Busch family’s Anheuser-Busch brewing company had become one of the largest breweries in the world, and in 1953 August Busch Jr., known as Gussie, purchased the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
“He decided to have (the Cardinals players and their families) out to his home to have a picnic,” Lauer says.
One player’s wife, enjoying her day on the farm, suggested that Gussie Busch should open it up for all people to visit. The next year, he did just that.
“In 1954, Grant’s Farm opened to the public,” Lauer says.
Through the 63 years since, Grant’s Farm has become a St. Louis institution of its own. This year it opens on April 15 and will be open through the spring, summer and into the fall, including evening Halloween events.
Elmore, the Grant’s Farm general manager, says feeding goats is one of the most popular activities on the farm. People can meet a variety of animals on the farm, learning about them along the way. This includes, of course, the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.
Elmore says more than half a million people will visit the farm this year.
“When families are here, they’re truly spending time together,” he says. “There’s not a lot of distractions here.”
Lauer says the activities and location make the farm so popular, especially for people who spend most of their time in the city.
“It’s ingrained into our culture,” she says. “For some people they’re seeing animals they haven’t seen. It’s such a welcoming location. It’s having a farm in St. Louis.”
Elmore enjoys seeing new generations experience the farm and its history and activities.
“People came when they were children, they brought their children and now they’re bringing their grandchildren,” he says. “That’s what makes it such a St. Louis tradition. We’re pretty proud of that.”