While Ulysses S. Grant was writing his memoirs and fighting his last battle against cancer, the cottage in upstate New York that became his last home was outfitted with electricity. When Grant’s cottage was electrified in 1885, power service was in its early days. The White House would not be electrified until six years later, in 1891.
Like many remote locations at the time, electric power came to Grant’s home in the woods through a local generator, back then called a steam dynamo. “They had to turn it off at 10 o’clock at night because it was just too noisy,” explains New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. “I think Gen. Grant would be very happy we’re doing this.”
Long after Grant’s death there in 1885, the cottage was provided with quieter power through a connection to the electrical grid via the nearby Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, now shuttered and awaiting redevelopment.
Earlier this year, in April 2021, the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage National Historic Landmark, was provided with yet a third power system, one so advanced that it could take the cottage back off the grid. The 34.2 kilowatt solar power plus storage system will provide the facility with 100% of its electricity through 90 solar panels that will store power in 48 batteries.
Grant Cottage is the first site to be taken off grid with solar under a plan by New York State to power half of its parks and historic sites by renewable energy by 2027.
Running any historic facility 100% off of solar panels these days is a big deal. But taking that facility off grid through battery storage makes the solar installation at Grant Cottage especially innovative. To help preserve the historic look of the site, the solar panels were discreetly installed behind a line of trees to hide them from the view of visitors to Grant Cottage.
“This demonstrates historically significant structures can be brought up to modern times,” said Doreen Harris, president of the state’s renewable energy agency known as NYSERDA.
The Cottage was slated to lose its power at some point in the future when the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility site is purchased and redeveloped. Since the Cottage site remains so remote even a century and a half after Grant’s death, the economics of solar plus storage were favorable compared to other options to provide the site with power.
New York State has shown impressive leadership on clean energy and they should be commended for choosing the Grant Cottage as their first historic site or park to run on clean energy.
Other Grant sites should take note and follow the good example of Grant Cottage. Sites in Ohio, Missouri or Illinois that are not as isolated as Grant Cottage and are already connected to the electrical grid will not require the extra expense of batteries and can go solar at lower cost.