Between 1798 and 1800, skilled craftsman constructed a two-story log farmhouse for original “Hermitage” property owner Nathaniel Hays, who had claimed the property as a land grant in the early 1780s. Relocating from Greene County, Tennessee, Hays lived here with his wife, two children, and two African American slaves. Builders constructed the vernacular farmhouse with timbers made of tulip poplar, American elm, and red oak. The foundations and chimney were made of locally quarried blue limestone. The sturdy and well-built dwelling measured 24’x26’ and featured a large single room on the first floor; the upstairs contained two bed chambers, a stair hall, and an attic loft. The house featured an enclosed corner stair and beaded trim. Two springs provided water for the landlocked farm. Hays established a small farm, where he grew cotton and became good friends with his neighbor, Andrew Jackson.
On July 5, 1804, Andrew Jackson purchased Hays’ farm, which he named the “Hermitage.” Before he and Rachel moved in, Jackson hired a local French- speaking craftsman to dress up the interior with painted trim and French wallpaper. Jackson also hired local men to clear fields, build fences, and construct new outbuildings, including a 30’x18’ log kitchen, which doubled as the cookhouse and as slave quarters for Betty the cook and her family. About 1813, Betty’s son Alfred Jackson was born in the original log kitchen. This log farmhouse was Jackson’s home when he led American troops against the British in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The family lived in the farmhouse until 1821, when they moved to the newly completed mansion.
In the 1820s, Jackson converted the abandoned farmhouse into a single-story slave cabin, where perhaps dozens of enslaved African Americans lived for the next thirty years. The alterations were significant, including removal of the first floor, construction of a new brick chimney, whitewashed interior, the removal of all window glass and doors as well as removal of the interior stair, wallpaper, and trim. Slaves made their own mark on the building by constructing root cellars, exterior shelving, and using interior wood stoves with metal flues. After the Civil War, the building was used for agricultural storage and quickly fell into a bad state of disrepair.
By 1889, when the Ladies’ Hermitage Association took over stewardship of The Hermitage, these buildings were deteriorated. In fact, the chimney and south wall of the farmhouse had collapsed during a storm. The situation was so dire, that the very first action the LHA took was to repair and restore the First Hermitage buildings. This was the first historic preservation project in Tennessee and one of the first in the U.S. Repairs continued throughout the 20th century and professional documentation began as part of the Bicentennial in 1976, but the nearly 200-year old log buildings continued to deteriorate. The First Hermitage farmhouse and kitchen were restored to their slave quarters appearance during a multi-year restoration project completed in 2005.
Constructed from 1819 to 1821 by skilled carpenters and masons from the local area, the original section of the Hermitage mansion was a brick Federal-style house. This design was a typical plantation dwelling for aspiring gentleman farmers in the Upper South, but 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. The upstairs held four bedrooms. The elegant house featured a basement summer kitchen, nine fireplaces, an entrance fanlight, French wallpaper, and metal gutters. Later, Jackson added a small plain entrance portico.
In 1831, while Jackson was President, he undertook a major remodeling directed by architect David Morrison. Morrison dramatically renovated the mansion with flanking one-story wings, a two-story entrance portico with ten Doric columns, a small rear portico, and copper gutters. The east wing contained a library and farm office while a large dining room and pantry comprised the west wing. A new kitchen and smokehouse were also built behind the 13-room mansion. Morrison’s remodeling gave the house a new Classical appearance.
Fire heavily damaged the house in the fall of 1834. Under the oversight of some of Jackson’s Nashville friends, builders Joseph Reiff and William C. Hume remodeled the mansion a second time, drawing many design details from the pattern books of New England architect, Asher Benjamin. The entrance façade was transformed into a fashionable Greek temple. Six two-story columns with modified Corinthian capitals range across the front porch. Similar columns with Doric capitals support a two-story rear porch. A coat of light tan paint on the front façade and sand coating on the front porch columns and trim simulated the appearance of stone.
Inside the house, the builders thriftily re-used Federal-style woodwork, but moved it to the family bedrooms. In the public rooms, such as the parlors and the best guest rooms, Greek Revival-style mantels and woodwork presented an up-to-date appearance. The highlight of the interior architecture is the cantilevered elliptical center staircase.
The builders completed the repaired and remodeled house just before Jackson returned from Washington in 1837. Inside, French wallpaper hung in nearly every room, and Jackson instructed that the damaged French scenic paper in the hallways be replaced. Rachel had selected this wallpaper, which illustrates the story of Telemachus. Philadelphia Classical style furniture replaced pieces destroyed in the fire. Once the renovations were completed in 1837, the Hermitage mansion was perhaps the most fashionable house in Tennessee.
Since opening as a museum in 1889, approximately 16 million people from around the world have toured the Hermitage mansion. An award-winning interior restoration was completed during the years 1989 to 1997. Today, original furniture, wallpaper, and family possessions allow visitors a glimpse of the Jackson family’s lives in the years of Andrew Jackson’s retirement.
Today, there are three standing Hermitage slave cabins, Alfred’s Cabin in the backyard of the mansion and the First Hermitage farmhouse and kitchen. Traditional historical documents have revealed little about slave dwellings at The Hermitage. However, Hermitage archaeologists have located thirteen slave dwellings in three different areas of the property: the workyard north of the mansion used mostly for house slaves and the Field Quarter and First Hermitage areas used for skilled and field slaves.
Most of the slave dwellings on the property were very similar double pen structures with two 20 feet square single story pens with a small loft (most likely for children to sleep), one door, one window, and a fireplace. Excavations of all of these very standardized dwellings have uncovered root cellars, which would have been underneath the floorboards and accessed by a hatch door. What makes these root cellars unique are the variability among cabins in their location, size, and construction indicating that the slaves, and not the Jacksons, built them.
In the workyard, only Alfred’s Cabin remains. It is a log double pen cabin organized around a central chimney, a house form commonly known as a saddlebag. Recent studies suggest it may have been built as early as 1841. It is called Alfred’s Cabin, because Alfred Jackson lived in it as a freedman until his death in 1901. The largest of the slave dwellings in the workyard would have been a three unit brick structure that Hermitage archaeologists have called the “Triplex,” It likely housed three slave families. Unfortunately, the Triplex was demolished in the last quarter of nineteenth century, so now only its foundation remains. From the concentration of sewing artifacts found in one of three units of the Triplex, Hermitage archaeologists believe that the Hermitage seamstress may have lived in this building. Archaeologists have also located two other slave dwellings in the workyard near Alfred’s Cabin, but little is known about them.
At least four slave dwellings are known to have stood in the First Hermitage area. The First Hermitage kitchen, a duplex or double pen log kitchen and slave dwelling was built in 1805. This log building had a dividing wall with chimneys at either end. The First Hermitage kitchen stood just forty feet from the First Hermitage farmhouse where Jackson lived from 1804 to 1821. After 1821, the farmhouse first floor was removed and the remaining second floor served as a slave quarter with three rooms and one chimney. Another log cabin and a brick duplex were also located in the First Hermitage area.
In the Field Quarter stood four nearly identical brick duplexes with chimneys at both ends of each building. All that remains of these buildings are the foundations that have been excavated by archaeologists. The four buildings formed a square with a central ‘courtyard area’ in the middle. These brick buildings were most likely built around 1821 once the brick Hermitage mansion was finished. At least one earlier log dwelling was also located in this area. The archaeological findings at the Field Quarter have revealed significant information about slave life at The Hermitage.
When Rachel Jackson died suddenly on December 22, 1828, Andrew Jackson had yet to make any preparations for his and his wife’s final resting place. Jackson decided to bury Rachel in her garden at The Hermitage as it was her favorite place on earth. Temporarily, Jackson had a small frame house erected over her limestone burial crypt until a more suitable monument could be built.
In 1831, Jackson hired architect David Morrison to remodel the Hermitage mansion and build a tomb for both Rachel and him. Morrison’s tomb design, no doubt at Jackson’s suggestion, strongly resembled a Greek temple found in the Telemachus scenic wallpaper that Rachel had chosen for the Hermitage entrance hall. Work began on this limestone tomb with its frame and copper roof in late 1831 and finished in the summer of 1832. During its construction, Jackson’s letters home constantly called for information on the progress of the tomb’s construction. In September 1832, Jackson set aside the tomb and a small family cemetery plot in the garden in a deed of trust.
With the tomb built, Jackson set out to landscape the area around the tomb and restore the garden that had declined since Rachel’s death. He specifically instructed that hickory trees and willows be planted near the tomb. In May 1835, Jackson wrote his son “How I am delighted to hear that the garden has regained its former appearance, that it always possessed whilst your dear mother was living, and that just attention is now paid to her monument. This is truly pleasing to me, and is precisely as it ought to be.”
Jackson returned to The Hermitage after finishing his second term as President in 1837. Daily, Jackson visited the tomb as long as his health allowed and when it failed him he could easily see the tomb from his office and from his bed. Jackson died on June 8, 1845 and was laid to rest two days later under the tomb. The inscription on his tomb reads simply, “General Andrew Jackson, March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845.
In the years after Jackson’s death, the tomb and garden suffered as the Jackson family’s wealth ebbed. After the State purchased the property from Andrew Jackson Jr. in 1856, various schemes would be hatched in the coming years to move Jackson’s body and tomb to the Tennessee State Capitol. Fortunately, none of those plans came to fruition and the Jackson tomb remained intact. At various times from 1865 to 1883, the State carried out much need repairs to the Jackson tomb. In 1889, the State entrusted the Hermitage mansion and the Jackson tomb to the Ladies Hermitage Association. Since then, the LHA has worked to maintain and preserve the tomb and the landscape that surrounds it. In 1977, significant restoration work took place at the Jackson tomb under the direction of the LHA. On April 16, 1998, a tornado swept across the Hermitage grounds uprooting or damaging nearly twelve hundred trees. The Jackson tomb escaped damage, but the trees surrounding it were devastated. The LHA began researching and replanting the trees around the Jackson tomb shortly after the tornado and that work continues today.
Update: Window Replacement!
In 1823, Andrew Jackson and his neighbors banded together to build a meeting house and church. Completed in 1824, this church is where Andrew Jackson famously entered the Presbyterian faith in 1838. The Hermitage Church congregation had the building remodeled in 1839 and 1889, and then it was, unfortunately, gutted by fire in February 1965. After the fire, the Ladies Hermitage Association purchased the land, including the building's remains and rebuilt the Hermitage Church around the still standing brick walls. By 1968, the building had been restored based on the 1839 configuration of the Hermitage Church.
Over the past decade, the Hermitage Church's windows badly deteriorated necessitating the complete replacement of all of the window sashes. Leatherwood, Inc. is replacing these sashes and work is scheduled for completion by mid-August. In addition to replacing the sashes, Leatherwood is repairing or replacing deteriorated window jambs and sills.
The cost for this project is $16,500. The AWC Family Foundation donated $10,000 for the windows, and the remainder of the cost is being paid by the Ladies' Hermitage Association. The Hermitage Church is in sound condition, but over the next decade the building will require additional repairs including a new roof, re-pointing of the walls and foundation, and new shutters.
In 1823, Jackson along with several of his neighbors donated money to build a neighborhood church. Jackson also donated the land and possibly enslaved labor from The Hermitage. When finished in January 1824, the brick building measured fifty by thirty feet. The church’s interior featured a brick floor with benches in a semicircle arranged around a pulpit on the building’s west wall. Fireplaces on the north and south walls heated this simple rural church. The church’s original nine members named their new house of worship Ephesus Church. Originally non-denominational, the congregation soon affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
In 1838, Jackson fulfilled his promise to Rachel, who had died in 1828, that when he was free of political entanglements he would join the church. In 1839, Jackson and other church members reconfigured the Ephesus Church to face the newly built Lebanon Turnpike. The doors on the east side of the building were bricked in and three windows were cut into the east wall, while the windows on the south wall were replaced with two doors. Additionally, the pulpit was moved to the north wall and the benches were replaced with boxed pews arranged on either side of a north-south center aisle. The new pulpit covered the north chimney so the congregation replaced the lost heat source with a stove. In recognition of Jackson’s support, the congregation changed the church’s name to Hermitage.
After Jackson’s death, the Hermitage Church continued to grow in members, except during the Civil War when services virtually ceased. Architecturally, the church remained the same as it was in 1839, except for the installation of taller, but narrower, windows and new, slightly different cornices in 1889. From 1935 to 1965, The Ladies’ Hermitage Association made several attempts to buy the church from the congregation to preserve another piece of Jackson’s heritage, but were unsuccessful.
In February 1965, fire gutted the Hermitage Church leaving only its brick walls intact. The Hermitage Church congregation sold the building’s remains to The Ladies’ Hermitage Association in return for land on the edge of the Hermitage property and funds toward building a new church on that land. After thorough research, the Ladies’ Hermitage Association restored the Hermitage Church to its 1839 appearance.
Today, the Hermitage Church is occasionally open to Hermitage visitors and can always be viewed from the exterior. The Hermitage church is regularly used for weddings, memorials, and other events. The Hermitage Presbyterian Church congregation traditionally holds an Easter Sunrise Service at the Hermitage Church.
Across Lebanon Pike from The Hermitage, stands Tulip Grove. Andrew Jackson Donelson, Rachel Jackson’s nephew and President Jackson’s private secretary, hired Nashville master builders William C. Hume and Joseph Reiff to construct this Greek Revival- style mansion as the seat of his 1000 acre cotton plantation. Built between 1834 and 1836 while Donelson and his wife Emily were living at the White House, the builders modeled the two-story brick dwelling on Asher Benjamin’s pattern-books published in Boston from 1830 to 1833.
Featuring a two-story Doric entrance portico, the house is situated atop a wooded hill about one mile from The Hermitage. Two small one-story wings were built on the rear of the 13-room mansion, which features Grecian mantels, painted woodwork, and an elegant curvilinear three-story staircase. The marbleized walls in the main entrance hall are original.
Donelson’s first wife Emily Tennessee Donelson died of tuberculosis at Tulip Grove just months after its completion and two days before her husband returned from Washington. In 1842, President Martin Van Buren visited The Hermitage and legend states he suggested the name of Donelson’s plantation be changed from “Poplar Grove” to “Tulip Grove” due to the tulip-shaped blossoms of the many poplar trees on the property. Just before moving from Tulip Grove, A.J. Donelson unsuccessfully ran for Vice-President. Donelson sold the 1,063-acre Tulip Grove estate in 1858 and moved to Memphis.
After Andrew Donelson left, Tulip Grove passed through a series of owners. In 1914, the Buntin family purchased Tulip Grove and built additions to house modern conveniences. In the 1960s, the Buntin’s sold the farmland surrounding Tulip Grove, but sold Tulip Grove mansion and the surrounding sixty acres to the Ladies’ Hermitage Association. In 1965, the Ladies’ Hermitage Association opened a restored Tulip Grove mansion to the public. According to architectural historians, this landmark building is one of the best surviving examples of a Greek Revival-style antebellum plantation house in Tennessee. Today, Tulip Grove is open for tours from 10 AM-2 PM Monday -Friday. Ticket prices are $5 for adults and $3 for children (18-under) and can be purchased at the ticket office in the Andrew Jackson Visitor Center. Tulip Grove is also available for rental events.
For most of the 19th century, The Hermitage was a working farm with hundreds of acres of agricultural fields. Worked first by over one hundred enslaved African Americans, then by tenant farmers and paid day labor, the Hermitage farm produced cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, pork, and dairy products.
The original property owner Nathaniel Hays and subsequent owners Andrew Jackson and his adopted son Andrew Jackson, Jr. directed the construction of 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 allowed to deteriorate or were demolished. After 1889, the Ladies’ Hermitage Association worked to preserve and restore many of the remaining outbuildings, such as Jackson’s original stable, which was later destroyed in a fire. 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 remains a mystery.