The original property owner, Nathaniel Hays, and subsequent owners, Andrew Jackson and his adopted son Andrew Jackson Jr., ordered the construction of the dozens of outbuildings necessary to operate the 1,000-acre cotton plantation.
Domestic outbuildings included kitchens, springhouses, an icehouse, carriage houses and dwellings for the overseer and the slaves. There were a wide array of support and agricultural outbuildings including a whiskey distillery, blacksmith and carpenter’s shops, a cotton gin and press, stables, smokehouses, a sawmill, and various types of barns.
After the State of Tennessee purchased The Hermitage in 1856, many of Jackson’s outbuildings were left to deteriorate or were demolished. After 1889, the Ladies’ Hermitage Association worked to preserve and restore many of what remained, such as Jackson’s original stable, which was later destroyed in a fire in the 1920’s.
Unfortunately, very few of the original outbuildings survive. In the past thirty years, archaeologists have documented many outbuildings, such as the icehouse and cotton gin, by excavating the remains of their foundations. The location of others still remains a unknown today.
The “Yard Cabin” sat between The Hermitage garden fence and Alfred’s cabin. The structure, which may have been two buildings joined together, has been partially excavated. A brick root cellar and limestone hearth bases were discovered.
Evidence uncovered there indicates that the building(s) were likely built on stone piers and in use from the 1820s to emancipation. It is unclear whether these rooms were working or living spaces for the enslaved. A predominance of eggshell and infant bird bone suggests the area may have been used to keep fowl.
The Hermitage icehouse stood directly behind the smokehouse in the backyard of the mansion. It was a square, below-ground feature lined with wood planks. This outbuilding would have been lined with hay then filled with blocks of ice cut from streams and rivers.
Typical icehouses had a ground-level, A-frame roof with steps leading down into the pit where the ice was stored. The icehouse was probably constructed in the 1830s and abandoned in the late nineteenth century.