The Road to Today
The Andrew Jackson Foundation and its predecessor organization, the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, has operated and managed Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage since 1889. Preservation is one of our most important missions.
After the death of Andrew Jackson, The Hermitage saw its fair share of hard times as future generations of the Jackson family failed to make the farm profitable. Fortunately, at its lowest point of decay, a group of Tennessee women were outraged by its proposed conversion into a hospital by the state. This inspired them to save the property and transform it into what you see today.
Preservation has been central to the story of The Hermitage for over 150 years. While Andrew Jackson’s home has been operated as a historic site museum since 1889, its preservation actually began in the 1850s, only a few years after Jackson died in 1845. The State of Tennessee purchased The Hermitage in 1856 with the intention of preserving the property as a “shrine” to Andrew Jackson.
Fall of the Farm
At Jackson’s death, his adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr., inherited the property. The following year, he began selling off small outlying parcels of land. He made some improvements to the property such as a new carriage drive, gates and a fence around the garden but did little to improve the farm or its finances. He tried to diversify his moneymaking ventures with an iron works and a lead mine in Kentucky but those efforts were unsuccessful. By 1853, mounting debts forced him to mortgage The Hermitage.
Woven into Tennessee
In 1856, Andrew Jackson Jr. sold a 500-acre section of the 1,050-acre farm, including the mansion and outbuildings, for $48,000 to the State of Tennessee but remained there as a tenant. The State bought the property intending it for a public use, namely as a military academy. Between 1856 and 1861, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate contentiously debated whether to accept Tennessee’s offer to let The Hermitage house a branch of West Point. Ultimately they rejected the idea.
In 1857, Andrew Johnson proposed converting The Hermitage into an “executive mansion” for the governor. That year, Andrew Jackson Jr. sold the remaining 550 acres of The Hermitage farm to private buyers. In 1858, the Jackson family vacated the property and relocated to a cotton plantation in Mississippi, taking all but five of their slaves whom they left behind to serve as caretakers.
Capturing History for the Future
From 1859 to 1861, Tennessee politicians proposed several new uses for The Hermitage, including a State Military School and a model farm for the Tennessee Agricultural Bureau, but none of these plans came to fruition. In 1860, Governor Isham Harris became the first political leader to advocate for outright preservation of The Hermitage, but the looming Civil War prevented such action.
In the fall of 1860, Andrew Jackson Jr. and his family returned to The Hermitage as tenants after their Mississippi cotton plantation failed. Only a handful of slaves returned with them. Although several important Civil War battles occurred near Nashville and in the surrounding region, no military action ensued near The Hermitage. In fact for the bulk of the war, the Union Army controlled Nashville and The Hermitage. During the early years of the Civil War, some Hermitage slaves left the property for freedom and by the end of the war, few remained.
Delays and Decay
Andrew Jackson Jr. died in 1865 leaving his widow, Sarah, to oversee The Hermitage. After the Civil War, she and her son, Andrew Jackson III conducted a very small farming operation with paid day laborers and tenant farmers. The Hermitage farm fell into disrepair and the buildings began to deteriorate slowly.
The state government was without funds for rebuilding vital infrastructure, much less maintaining Andrew Jackson’s home. In 1865, Governor William G. Brownlow instructed repairs be made to Jackson’s tomb, and a survey completed of the entire property. In 1866, Governor Brownlow made several unsuccessful proposals for its use, including a public institution for invalid soldiers. The following year, the Tennessee Legislature authorized a public auction of The Hermitage but then never followed through.
The Ladies’ Hermitage Association Saves The Hermitage
In the 1870s and 1880s, as Nashville grew into a southern commercial center, increasing numbers of people, from newspaper journalists to wealthy Nashvillians, began to make excursions to The Hermitage. Tennessee politicians continued to explore options regarding the proper use of this state-owned property. In 1883, the State approved $350 for repairing the Jackson’s tomb and building an iron fence around it.
The state undertook no other action until 1888, a year after the death of Andrew Jackson’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Yorke Jackson. The legislature proposed converting the Hermitage mansion into a hospital for invalid Confederate soldiers. This led to the creation of an organization of Tennessee women who fought to save The Hermitage and advocated for its preservation. A group of wealthy Nashville women, including Andrew Jackson’s descendants, formed “The Ladies’ Hermitage Association” early in 1889.
After several weeks of intense lobbying, and on the last day of the session, the Tennessee State Legislature compromised and passed Bill No. 461 on April 5, 1889 giving the newly chartered Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA) control and ownership of the 25-acre core section of the Hermitage farm, including the mansion, garden and several historic outbuildings.
The same bill also created a 9-member all-male Board of Trustees that oversaw the operations of the all-female LHA and all-female Board of Directors. Membership in the LHA was invitation-only until the 1980s when it was opened to anyone including men and the separate Board of Trustees abolished.
In the compromise, the State of Tennessee allowed the construction of the Tennessee Confederate Soldiers’ Home on the remaining 475 acres of the Hermitage farm. It was located “outside the view of the Hermitage grounds.”
A Timely First Tour
In July 1889, the LHA held its first fundraising “excursion” to The Hermitage and opened the property as a public institution. Arranged in conjunction with the “annual meeting of the National Educational Association,” being held in Nashville, around 1,000 people visited over a four-day period. Since then, nearly 15 million people from around the world have toured Andrew Jackson’s home and farm.
One of the very first projects the LHA undertook in 1889 was the repair and restoration of Jackson’s original log cabin, First Hermitage, which had fallen into disrepair. It was the first historic preservation project in Tennessee’s history and one of the very first in American history.
In 1896, the LHA restored the original log kitchen cabin at the First Hermitage site and began work on the Hermitage mansion, Hermitage Church, garden and tomb.
In the 1920s, a disastrous fire destroyed Jackson’s original horse stable and a newer support building. In response, the LHA operated its own private fire department at The Hermitage for many years until city services arrived in this rural section outside Nashville.
In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) donated $70,000 towards repairs and restoration work at The Hermitage. This included the construction of new support buildings, such as a ticket office, a greenhouse, a home for the caretakers and a large pond to fight fires.
The Future Nashville International Airport
In the 1920s, the Tennessee Army National Guard constructed an airport on a section of Jackson’s original farm, which Andrew Jackson, Jr. sold in 1857 to private property owners. This was Nashville’s second airport and was used mainly for airshows and private traffic. However, in the 1930s, the city proposed to use WPA funds to expand the airport for commercial traffic.
The LHA fought the proposal tooth-and-nail, even traveling to Washington to argue against the plan that threatened to destroy Jackson’s original farmland. They won and the WPA built an airport closer to Nashville. Today, this is the enormous Nashville International Airport, serving some 10 million travelers per year.
Procuring More of the Estate
In the 1930s, the Tennessee Confederate Soldiers’ Home closed and the State turned the 475 acres over to the LHA. In the early 1940s, the LHA allowed the U.S. Army from nearby Fort Campbell to practice tank and military maneuvers on the Hermitage farm. They also allowed a 40-acre field to be used as a community Victory Garden, one of the largest in Tennessee.
In the 1950s, the LHA purchased the 160-acre tract of land containing the old airport. In the 1960s, they acquired and restored the adjacent Tulip Grove mansion, built by Andrew Jackson Donelson in the 1830s, and a surrounding 25 acre parcel. Also in the 1960s, the LHA acquired the original 1820s Hermitage Church, which had been nearly destroyed by a fire. The LHA restored and rebuilt the church exactly as it appeared after Andrew Jackson helped renovate it in the 1830s.
A National Landmark
In December 1960, the National Park Service designated The Hermitage as one of Tennessee’s first National Historic Landmarks and in 1971; the property was formally listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Tulip Grove mansion was individually listed in the National Register in 1984.
By the 1960s and 1970s, Nashville grew from a sleepy southern city into a boomtown, surrounding The Hermitage with suburban sprawl. A commercial developer proposed to subdivide the remaining 460 acres of original Hermitage land that Andrew Jackson, Jr. sold in 1857.
The LHA successfully convinced the State of Tennessee to purchase the land in order to preserve it, instead. The State used the land for the Hermitage Wildlife Management Area until 2003 when they turned it over to the LHA.
1,050 Acres Finally Reunited
It took over 110 years, but in 2003 the LHA finally had control of the entire 1,050-acre Hermitage cotton plantation Andrew Jackson owned at his death in 1845. Today, the LHA manages 1,120 acres, making The Hermitage one of the largest historic site museums in America.
In 1970, the LHA began conducting archaeological excavations to further discover and preserve Jackson’s Hermitage. In 1988, the LHA established a permanent Archaeology Department and accumulated nearly 1 million artifacts, primarily related to slavery and slave sites. This aids in providing a much better understanding of American slavery during the Jacksonian Era. The collection is being catalogued and is available on the web at www.daacs.org.
Through the years, the LHA has continuously preserved the historic buildings and land at The Hermitage. This includes a major $2.5 million restoration of the Hermitage mansion from 1989 to 1997 and a $1.1 million restoration of the First Hermitage cabins from 1999 to 2005. Both projects received national acclaim as well as national and state historic preservation awards. The First Hermitage Restoration was a Save America’s Treasures Official Project. In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded The Hermitage with its prestigious “Stewardship Award.”
Our Preservation Goal
Preservation of The Hermitage is ongoing.
Work that started in the 1850s continues today as we use the latest in science and technology to preserve this extraordinary American landmark. Archaeology, dendro-dating, finish and paint analysis and other techniques are utilized to preserve, restore and repair all of Andrew Jackson’s original buildings and land.
The goal of the Andrew Jackson Foundation is to restore the farm as closely to its original appearance as possible so that our visitors have a better understanding of Andrew Jackson, his family, his slaves, and life during Jacksonian America.
For more contact the Vice President of Preservation at [email protected].Contact us