The Hermitage Mansion Story
Andrew Jackson Buys The Hermitage
After they married, Andrew Jackson and Rachel first lived in the Nashville area. Eventually he bought a farm named Poplar Grove where he and Rachel resided from 1792-1796. Afterwards, they moved to a 640-acre plantation on the Cumberland River called Hunter’s Hill. They inhabited this property until 1804.
Throughout this time, the resourceful Jackson continued to practice law and took on many endeavors such as land speculation, a general store and various other joint ventures. One such partnership failed miserably forcing Jackson to sell Hunter’s Hill in order to avoid bankruptcy. On July 5, 1804, he purchased a smaller property from his neighbor, Nathaniel Hays. This 425-acre farm would become The Hermitage.
Soon after moving to The Hermitage, Jackson established a new riverfront enterprise at nearby Clover Bottom on the Stones River. Here he operated a general store, a tavern and tracks for racing thoroughbred horses.
Ultimately, Jackson quit his Superior Court judgeship to focus on The Hermitage and his Clover Bottom enterprises. He added land and slaves to his Hermitage operations in the coming years.
The original structure of The Hermitage mansion was a brick, Federal-style house constructed between 1819 and 1821 by skilled carpenters and masons from the local area. Though this design was typical of plantation dwellings for aspiring gentleman farmers in the Upper South it was already beginning to lose favor in more fashionable Eastern areas.
The house contained eight rooms, four on each floor and two wide center halls. This symmetrical center hall style plan held its popularity in the South for many years.
The first floor contained two parlors, a dining room and Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s bedroom. On the second floor were four bedrooms. The elegant house featured a basement summer kitchen, nine fireplaces, an entrance fanlight, French wallpaper and metal gutters. Later, Jackson added a simple portico.
During Jackson’s presidency, the mansion underwent a major renovation directed by architect David Morrison. In 1831, Morrison dramatically redesigned the mansion by adjoining flanking one-story wings, a two-story front portico with ten Doric columns, a small rear portico and copper gutters.
The new wings bordered the east and west sides of the home. The east wing housed a library and a farm office. A large dining room and pantry comprised the west wing. A newer kitchen and a smokehouse were also added behind the 13-room mansion. Morrison’s remodeling gave the house a Classical appearance.
A Devastating Fire
In the fall of 1834 a fire heavily damaged the house. Architects Joseph Reiff and William C. Hume, oversaw the rebuilding. Taken from the in vogue design pattern-book of New England architect Asher Benjamin, this style gave a more fashionable appearance.
In this redesign the entrance façade to the Hermitage was transformed into a fashionable Greek temple by adding six, two-story columns with modified Corinthian capitals across the front porch. Similar columns with Doric capitals supported a two-story porch on the back entrance. They added light tan paint on the wood structures of front façade and sand coating on the columns and trim to simulate the appearance of stone.
Inside the house, the builders repurposed the outmoded Federal-style woodwork by moving it into the more private, family bedrooms. In the public rooms, such as the parlors and the best guest bedrooms, Greek Revival-style mantels and woodwork were added.
The highlight of the interior architectural additions was the cantilevered, elliptical staircase in the center hall. This replaced the previous “dog-leg” staircase, which was comprised of two straight flights of stairs with two landings.
Prior to the fire, nearly every room was covered in French wallpaper. Jackson instructed that the damaged scenic paper in the hallways, illustrating the story of Telemachus adapted from Greek literature that Rachel selected originally, be replaced.
The destroyed furnishings were replaced with Philadelphia Classical style pieces. When the builders completed the house in 1837, the Hermitage mansion was perhaps the most fashionable house in Tennessee.
Visited by Millions
Considered by many historians to be the best preserved early U.S. presidential home, the mansion at The Hermitage has welcomed approximately 16 million visitors from around the world since opening as a museum in 1889.
An award-winning interior restoration was carried out between 1989 and 1997. Today, original furniture, wallpaper and family possessions give visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the family in the years of Andrew Jackson’s retirement.