The Hermitage

The home of Andrew Jackson, now a public museum, is eleven miles east of Nashville. Andrew Jackson bought the Hermitage farm in 1804, and it was his home for the remainder of his life. The Jacksons had lived on two other Davidson County farms: Poplar Grove in present-day Hadley's Bend and, due north of the Hermitage on the Cumberland River, Hunter's Hill, a well-developed property that had to be sold to meet outstanding debts.

When the Jacksons moved to the Hermitage, it comprised only 425 acres with a cluster of assorted log buildings for housing and storage. For the next seventeen years the Jackson family received visitors as distinguished as President James Monroe in these simple accommodations.

In 1819 Jackson began construction of a large brick house, financially warranted at last by virtue of his second income as peacetime general of the U.S. Army. The family occupied the house upon their return from Florida in 1821. Typical of southern Federal-style houses, there were four rooms downstairs and four rooms upstairs, all opening into a broad central hall. Visitors commented little on the interior design, aside from the Dufour scenic wallpaper in the entry hall, the same pattern that hangs there now. William Frost, a professional gardener from Philadelphia, laid out an acre of pleasure garden on the east side of the house for Rachel Jackson. When she died in December 1828, the significance of the Hermitage changed entirely for Jackson. His interest in the property focused on the garden where he had buried her; later he prepared a place for himself under the monument built over the grave.

By the time of Jackson's inauguration as president, the Hermitage comprised 1,000 acres. One hundred slaves under the direction of an overseer provided all the labor for the agricultural enterprise. Jackson never cultivated more than 400 acres, 200 in cotton and the rest in hay, oats, wheat, corn, and root vegetables. The Hermitage maintained a dairy herd, about 150 sheep, and 300 or more hogs. African American slave artisans operated a blacksmith shop, spinning and weaving shops, a mill, and a cotton gin. About ten slaves regularly worked in the mansion, kitchen, garden, and family stable. These slaves lived in brick two-room structures with lofts, which housed two families and stretched from the rear of the mansion to the cluster of field-slave houses about a third of a mile north. By Jackson's death in 1845, the slave population numbered nearly 150.

In 1833 Jackson completed a remodeling of the house and added a dining room wing and attached a library-reception room to his bedroom. A fire late in 1834 severely damaged the house, destroyed the second story, and ruined the interior finishes. The rebuilding was left largely to the taste of Jackson's adopted son Andrew Jr. and his daughter-in-law Sarah. The post-fire house emerged in the fashionable Greek Revival style, with appropriate furniture, wallpapers, and textiles purchased in Philadelphia. Jackson spent his final eight years in this remodeled house.

Andrew Jackson Jr. was not a successful cotton farmer. Despite efforts to diversify with dairying, operate a lead furnace in Kentucky, and acquire more productive farm lands elsewhere, Jackson's accumulation of debt forced the sale of the farm to the State of Tennessee in 1856.

Tennessee intended to offer the property to the federal government as a western branch of the U.S. Military Academy, but the Civil War prevented this. In 1860 the Jackson family returned from a failed farming venture in southern Mississippi to take up residence once again in the Hermitage mansion as tenants at the will of the state.

In 1888 the general assembly considered turning the property into a home for indigent Confederate veterans. To protect the property, a group of Nashville women secured a charter to operate the site as a public shrine. The Ladies' Hermitage Association continues to the present in its uninterrupted management of the Hermitage.

Elsewhere on the 500 acres, the state constructed a large brick home for Confederate veterans. The facility remained largely self-sufficient through the operation of a farm. In the cemetery near the Hermitage church, 489 Confederate Home veterans were buried. The home closed in 1933, and the state gradually added the land to the Ladies' Hermitage Association holdings.

Andrew Jackson III, his wife, and two sons were the last family occupants of the house. They left with all the furniture and memorabilia in 1893. Eventually, the Ladies' Hermitage Association bought nearly all the things the family inherited and returned them to the house and other public spaces on the grounds.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010