THE HERMITAGE – historic home of Andrew Jackson

Julianna Conner described her visit in 1827 to the Hermitage mansion as follows: “You enter a large and spacious hall or vestibule, the walls covered with a very splendid French paper – beautiful scenery, figures, etc. – the floor an oil cloth. . . To the right are two large, handsome [drawing] rooms furnished in fashionable and genteel style. . . To the left is the dining room and [General and Mrs. Jackson’s] chamber. There was no splendor to dazzle the eye but everything elegant and neat.”

1934 Historic American Buildings Survey

Jackson’s Irish parents (Andrew, Sr. and Elizabeth), as well as two older brothers, Hugh and Robert, landed in the Carolina’s in 1765. Andrew, Jr. was born on March 15, 1767 near Lancaster, South Carolina.  Sadly, one at a time his family members perished leaving young Andrew alone at the age of 14.  Jackson was now an orphan, but he was anything but “tender” even at this young age.  He was in service in 1780 to the Continental Army at just 13, and when he refused to clean the muddy boots of a British soldier, Jackson bore the facial scar all his life from the angry soldier’s saber.  

According to the Hermitage.com website: Jackson briefly resided with members of his mother’s family but soon went to Charleston and embarked upon a campaign of youthful adventure and mischief.  About this time, Jackson received a modest inheritance from a grandfather still in Ireland. When his money ran out, Jackson finished school and, although he disdained studying, worked as a schoolteacher for a short period. Tall and lanky with red hair and piercing blue eyes, Jackson was known for his fiery temper, fearlessness, playful personality and daring spirit.”

IMG_9034
Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

Per the 1978 Historic Register Nomination Form:  “. . .625 of the original 1,200 acres, are located north and south of Rachels Lane west of its intersection with Lebanon Pike (Route 24) at Hermitage, Tennessee. The Hermitage mansion, outbuildings, garden, and family cemetery stand on the north side of Rachels Lane and are surrounded by open, rolling fields.  Jackson purchased his Hermitage plantation in 1804 and for the next 15 years occupied a group of log buildings already standing on the property. These included a two-story blockhouse, which had been used as a store before it was converted to a dwelling, and three one-story cabins used as sleeping quarters for the family and guests.  In 1819, with the profits from a three-year boom in cotton prices, Jackson was able to build the original Hermitage mansion (the center section of the present house) on a site selected by his wife Rachel.”

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

In the 1820’s, Southern builders in America preferred Greek Revival but the style’s details and materials could vary significantly depending on local vernacular influences … and such an eclectic mix of personal twists on the academic details of the style is not-surprisingly apparent at The Hermitage.  In 1831 Andrew Jackson hired David Morrison, born in Pennsylvania in 1797, to enlarge The Hermitage, originally built in 1819-20.   

Mr. Morrison had worked in Maryland prior to arriving in the Nashville area, and his portfolio was significant – including the State Penitentiary, the largest building in the state of Tennessee at the time.  Morrison wrote to his employer Jackson in December 1831: “I have the satisfaction to inform you that the additions and improvements to The Hermitage are completed. . . The Hermitage as improved presents a front of 104 feet, the wings project 9 feet in front of the center building and are connected by a colonnade of the same breadth.  The colonnade consists of 10 lofty columns of the Doric Order.  The entablature is carried through the whole line of the front, and wreaths of laurel leaves in the frieze. . . The upper story consists of a Portico surmounted by a pediment which breaks the monotony of the composition in a very satisfactory manner. . . The old kitchen is removed. . . The wing at the East end contains the Library, a large and commodious room, and overseer room, and a covered way that protects the three doors leading to the library, overseer room and to the back parlor.”   These conditions survived only a short time as the home burned almost completely in 1834.

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

Subsequent to the 1834 fire, a comprehensive redesign and rebuild was required.  Architects Joseph Reiff and William C. Hume oversaw the project.  As was typical of the day, design clues were derived from pattern-books of New England architect Asher Benjamin“In this redesign the entrance facade to the Hermitage was transformed into a fashionable Greek temple by adding six, two-story columns with modified Corinthian capitals across the front porch.” [www.thehermitage.com]  

Because President Jackson had a few things to do in Washington, DC 😊 (he was POTUS 1829-1837) his nephew and adopted son Andrew Jackson Donelson was asked to manage the hectic process of rebuilding.  Just days before his 1829 Presidential Inauguration, his beloved Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson had died in late 1828, and Jackson relinquished:

“I would be satisfied to see it restored to what it was before it was burnt, but as I know I shall not be long on earth to enjoy its comforts. . . you may exercise your own discretion.”

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

Interestingly, in 1836 as the rebuilding of The Hermitage approached completion, Jackson asked Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument and Architect of Public Buildings in the Capitol City, to calculate the amount of zinc metal needed for the home’s new roof and to order the material.  

Andrew Jackson died in 1845, and in 1856 The Hermitage was sold to the State of Tennessee.  The property almost became a military academy if it weren’t for the Civil War interrupting the process.  After the War between the States, it was suggested as a Confederate Veterans’ home.  The Jackson family occupied the home for decades, but it was deteriorating … and quickly.  In 1889 the Ladies Hermitage Association acquired ownership and management – inspired by the similar fate of George Washington’s estate and its saving grace known as the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.  

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.  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.

Image courtesy D.T. Ward, September 2018

At seventy years old, “Old Hickory” (a label he acquired on the Natchez Trace) came home to The Hermitage on March 25, 1837 handing the Presidency to his trusted vice-president, Martin Van Buren. He had served as America’s 7th President soundly defeating John Quincy Adams and remaining in office for 2 full terms.

Jackson had led a rough and tough life, even killing a man in a duel – although it’s a further testament to his fair-mindedness, as he allowed the other man to shoot first, and Jackson carried the bullet inside his chest near his heart (quite literally) for the rest of his life.  Yet he was soft in his loyalty to friends and family – during his retirement at The Hermitage, he cared for and educated six children. 

But long before then, “during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Tallasehatchee, (present day Alabama) a dead Creek woman was found clutching her living baby. The other Indian women refused to care for the infant boy, so Jackson brought him home and raised him as his son, naming him Lincoyer.” (Bill Federer)

As with all politics and politicians, Jackson’s personal life was always under public scrutiny. His wife’s marital backstory (prior to their marriage) is quite extraordinary and still discussed today with controversial conclusions. There are no official marriage papers to be found, but it is believed they married near Natchez, Mississippi in the early Spring of 1791. He was very familiar with both ends of the “Devil’s Backbone” (Natchez Trace) from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi where Rachel lived. One fact is clear – Andrew loved her with all of his being, and he visited Rachel’s grave everyday he could …for 17 years!  And when he died on June 8, 1845, Andrew Jackson was buried next to her at the stone domed memorial in the family cemetery adjacent to the mansion.

Illustration by Harry Coughlin; from the book Sons of the South

His undeniable and inexorable imprint on early American history is incredible, controversial, fascinating and enduring. Yet, much like Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello (https://dtracywardarchitect.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/monticello-the-historic-home-of-thomas-jefferson/), Jackson’s home at The Hermitage always remained his escape from the intense stress of political life.

Andrew Jackson expressed a longing to retreat home to Nashville in a letter to John Coffee (1772-1833), whose tombstone epitaph was written by Jackson:

“Could I with honor . . . I would fly to [The Hermitage], there to bury myself from the corruption and treachery of this wicked world.”

References:

Uploaded May 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0046

D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2019 by D. Tracy Ward, Architect and Benchmark Design, PC.  “By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”   (Proverbs 24:3-4)

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