Some people pass by without a glance. Others pause to read the small sign that marks the historic home in Burlington City where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his family sought privacy during the last months of the Civil War.
Occasionally, the very curious will stare, then knock on the door to ask for a peek inside. Depending on circumstances, the current homeowners, William Knight and David Arnold, will sometimes comply.
Generally the two prefer their privacy in this splendid piece of American history, which they have lovingly maintained since they purchased it on Valentine's Day 1985.
It was by happenstance that artist William Knight, taking a shortcut on a trip to Philadelphia, passed the house and saw a "for sale" sign. Fate was at work. Knight and Arnold were outgrowing their home in Roosevelt, N.J., and here was one that seemed to beckon.
"It was kind of love at first sight," said Knight, who felt instantly that this home was meant to be lived in and maintained.
Arnold shared his enthusiasm from the start. The two later were the first couple to be married in Burlington City in 2013 after New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage.
Both men deeply respect the home's history, dating to 1856. They cherish its classical look in the Italianate style.
"We don't necessarily agree on every decorating decision," said Arnold, a pianist and choral and classical singer who has performed widely, including for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Arnold's cherished 9-foot-2-inch concert grand has the starring role in the home's formal living/sitting room, where lucky visitors may be treated to a concert. Arnold improved the room's already good acoustics by trimming down one of the twin drapery panels, which he feared would compromise his sound.
Among Arnold's credits are performances with major orchestras in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Amsterdam, along with stints at the Metropolitan Opera. "Having this piano in our home is a special joy to me," he said.
Many eclectic works by Knight, a painter and sculptor, adorn the walls of the house. His works have been exhibited at Princeton and Widener Universities and other venues, such as the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, N.Y., and the Textile Museum in Washington. He also has curated exhibits in museums and galleries nationally.
The home that Knight and Arnold have created has a certain innate grandeur, but not of the intimidating kind. They have furnished the house's few, well-proportioned rooms with period furnishings and accessories that characterize the mid-19th century, while artfully blending in fine-art pieces such as mirrored glass and Tiffany-style lamps. The foyer wallpaper has the look and feel of historic stenciling,
Conversation pieces include a work by Knight in dichroic glass, which changes coloration depending on where the viewer stands. The piece is made of material created by NASA research.
It's not surprising that a portrait of Grant hangs in the dining room. It was a gift from a former owner as a reminder of the house's legacy and Grant's prominence in Civil War history.
Perhaps one of the most treasured parts of the house is a balcony where it is believed that Grant himself stood and announced to his neighbors the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on the morning after that fateful night, April 14, 1865, when Lincoln was at shot at Ford's Theater in Washington.
"Standing on that balcony is truly an amazing experience," said Arnold, whose ancestors experienced slavery.
The homeowners recognize that, in some ways, their lives are now entwined with a family whose history included a need to find a safe place for the Grant children during the Civil War.
How ironic, too, that on the evening of April 14, the general and his wife had been invited to the theater where Lincoln was assassinated. It is believed that the Grants turned down the invitation because they wanted more family time and privacy and chose instead to travel to Burlington City.
The current owners of the Grant House recognize that in some ways, they are guardians of the home's history. "We do feel a responsibility to honor this legacy," Knight said.
At the same time, they feel that when they're inside its walls, the house is theirs.
"We love to entertain here, usually hosting dinner for about six. We especially love the front porch, the flowers, and plantings that add so much," Knight said.
Then, as two passersby paused to read the small historic marker just outside the house, Knight added: "To us, this is the most important place of all not just because of its history, but because it's home. Our home."