It was 1884, and Ulysses S. Grant was broke.
The former president had been living a comfortable retirement in New York City, but he lost his life savings to the Bernie Madoff of the time, according to Steve Trimm, a local Grant historian.
He was the bank president. He cleaned out every account of every depositor, Trimm said.
To make matters worse, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer. His doctors recommended he move somewhere in the mountains to enjoy the clean air in the limited time he had left, but the family simply didn't have money to buy such a retreat.
So Joseph Drexel, a longtime Grant friend and admirer, stepped in. A successful banker, Drexel was working on a hotel project on Mount McGregor in Wilton. There was a cottage on the property where the hotel was being built, and Drexel told Grant and his family they could live there as long as they wanted, free of charge.
That's how Grant came to spend his final days in the town outside Saratoga Springs, and why the cottage is now called Grant Cottage State Historic Site. It's been 125 years since Grant's passing, but the cottage remains largely the same as the day he died. Flowers from the funeral even still sit in the parlor, each hand-dipped in wax to withstand the toll of time.
On Saturday, July 24, the cottage will host a special remembrance of Grant from 1 to 3 p.m. on the veranda. The 77th Balladeers will perform and the Boy Scouts of Wilton and the Sons of Union Veterans will host an honor guard. Tours will be available, and the highlight of the event will be an interpretation of Fred Grant's farewell to his father, with Trimm portraying Fred Grant.
As immersed as Trimm is in Grant history, just a few years ago, he didn't know too much about the 18th president or the cottage he called home for six weeks. That changed when Trimm became acquainted with a woman in Oregon who was a big Grant fan. He decided to visit the cottage and send her some memorabilia.