This historic site in Columbia is the only surviving residence of the eleventh U.S. president, excluding the White House. James K. Polk was attending the University of North Carolina in 1816 when his father Samuel built the two-story, Federal-style house on Market Street (now Seventh Street). The fine brick structure reflected Samuel Polk's success as a farmer, surveyor, and land speculator. After graduating from college in 1818, James Polk returned to Tennessee and stayed with his parents until he married Sarah Childress in 1824. While living in his father's house, he practiced law and successfully campaigned for the state legislature. When his father died in 1827, James executed the will, which ensured that the house would remain his mother's residence. Throughout his life, he was a frequent guest at the Columbia home. Shortly after leaving the presidency, he paid a final visit to his mother in April 1849; he died of cholera in Nashville two months later. His mother, Jane Knox Polk, lived in the family home until her death in 1852.
After Sarah Childress Polk died in Nashville in 1891, her great-niece, Sarah Jetton Fall, began to collect and publicly display President and Mrs. Polk's personal belongings. In 1924 Mrs. Fall's daughter, Saidee Fall Grant, started the James K. Polk Association to continue these preservation efforts. Although the association originally exhibited its historical collection in Nashville, group members saw the Polk house in Columbia as the ideal site for their museum. With help from the City of Columbia and Maury County, the association raised half of the necessary funds to purchase the property; the State of Tennessee then matched the amount. Owned by the state and operated by the association, the James K. Polk Ancestral Home became a presidential historic site in 1929. Between then and 1979, a series of restoration projects returned the structure to its early nineteenth-century appearance. A Victorian front porch and an enclosed side porch were removed; a metal roof was replaced by an authentic wooden shingle one; and a detached brick kitchen was reconstructed. In 1961 the National Park Service designated the Polk Home a National Historic Landmark.
Today, visitors to the home see original furnishing from President Polk's years in Columbia, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. The site's collections of over thirteen hundred artifacts and documents include books from Polk's library, memorabilia from his political campaigns, the official notification of his election to the presidency, Inaugural mementos, White House china and decorative items, oil portraits of President and Mrs. Polk, and a daguerreotype of Polk's cabinet, the earliest known photograph of the White House interior. The home remains the headquarters of the Polk Memorial Association. In accordance with its stated purpose, the organization continues to “perpetuate the memory of the eleventh President of the United States.”