The Grant Homestead and Tannery
Written by Ned Lodwick, US Grant Homestead Association
“ ‘Lys’ Grant grows up ”
The center of young Hiram Ulysses Grant’s life was now at the corner of Water and Main Cross Street. His house was there, his father’s tannery was across the street, the Methodist Church was on the opposite corner, and his teacher J.D. White’s house and school were close. His friends all lived close by; Daniel Ammen at the Courthouse Square, the Whites, Carr and Chilton, on the hill to the west, and Bart Bailey in the grand white house on Water Street.
All this set the stage for a boy named Hiram Ulysses Grant to learn the lessons of a middle class family in a new village in the Ohio frontier. He would learn his lessons well.
‘Lys’ was short and stocky and small for his age. He had a round face, strong straight nose, and quiet gray blue eyes. His clothes were always clean and so was ‘Lys’ but some how he always looked frumpy and unkempt. When he walked, he shuffled. A childhood friend said, “He was not a brilliant boy but he was a good boy, a refined boy, the soul of honor”. He didn’t get into trouble in school or around town. He was an average student, and did just enough to get by, except in arithmetic – he was exceptional in math. He was quiet and usually didn’t speak unless spoken to, but would speak his mind clearly and concisely when he spoke. He never swore or used vulgar language, and he was notably considerate and unselfish. There is little record of him fighting, although he was not given to running away. He had a solid work ethic but he enjoyed his free time. He liked to swim but was a poor fisherman. He was an excellent shot with a pistol but did not like to hunt like the other boys. He was an avid tree climber, looking always at the horizon. He was a serious boy but enjoyed a good joke. Most of all he loved to spend time with horses. At home he was taught temperance, honesty, purity, respect for others, and religion. He was his mother’s son. He had her simplicity, quietness, directness, and the prime quality that eventually made him a great man, her sense of ethics.
‘Lys’ might have been small in size when he was five years old but he thought he could do anything. His father, Jesse, was always looking for jobs his son could do so he didn’t have to pay someone to do it. One day at the tannery Jesse asked ‘Lys’ if he thought he could clean out the horse’s stall for two bits. ‘Lys’ looked at the amount of manure then at the coins and said he thought he could. All day little ‘Lys’ struggled and toiled and by sundown the stall was clean. Smiling broadly Jesse paid his exhausted son and said, “You’ve done a fine job, ‘Lys’, now you should be able to clean that stall each week without extra pay as one of your chores.”
‘Lys’ had read about the life of George Washington and admired the great man’s character. ‘Lys’s cousin John came to visit one summer from Canada and he was a loyal English subject. John was older, fifteen pounds heavier, and a head taller than ‘Lys’.
One day ‘Lys’ was telling his cousin of the virtues of his hero when the Canadian said, “Your Washington was a traitor!” “Take that back! I wouldn’t submit to hear my own mother say such a thing!” replied ‘Lys’. “Washington was a traitor”, repeated John. The fight was soon on and against the odds ‘Lys’ prevailed. Washington’s honor was preserved. The boys were soon friends again but word of the fight got back to Jesse and he was not pleased. His son had been taught not to get into fights or he would be punished. ‘Lys’ explained that the fight was over ‘patriotic principles’ and Jesse decided that at least this time a fight might have been justified.
‘Lys’ was a favorite with the girls because of his good manners and gentle nature. He was especially popular in the winter because he had a horse and access to a sleigh! He could be seen on most clear nights driving a sleigh full of laughing girls across the snow-covered fields around Georgetown.
When ‘Lys was thirteen or so, Dr. Buckner built a fine new house with a large front porch at the corner of State and Main Streets. The doctor had a large stone step cut at White Oak Creek. The problem was that none of the teamsters in the area could get the massive stone loaded onto their wagon to deliver it. Finally, ‘Lys told Dr. Buckner he would bring the stone to his new house and put it in place and do it by himself. ‘Lys took his team to the creek bed and dug a trench on either side of the step. Each trench was deeper at the far end. ‘Lys then dug two holes under the stone in the opposite direction. Next, he backed his wagon into the trenches and over to stone. He passed chains through the holes under the stone and used the chains the secure the stone to the axles of the wagon. When he drove the team forward the wagon rose out of the trenches and the stone came with it. “Lys and his team brought the stone to Dr. Buckner’s house under his wagon. There he reversed the process and set the stone in its proper place. The 8’x4’x9” stone remained in place until 1907 when the Town Building was built. The great stone was then moved to Confidence Cemetery where it can be see today in front of the artillery piece. It will soon move again to the Grant Homestead at the corner of Grant Ave. and Water St.
All of these lessons that Hiram learned in Brown County would later serve him well in his future life. He learned to work hard, rely on his intelligence, move always forward, love his family and his country, listen more than you speak, and make decisions quickly.
Visit the U.S. Grant Boyhood Home in Georgetown and see where Hiram grew up and walk the streets he walked.