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.
A Devastating Fire
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. 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, taken from the design pattern-book of New England architect Asher Benjamin presented an up-to-date appearance. The highlight of the interior architecture is the cantilevered elliptical center staircase, which replaced the earlier “dog-leg” staircase, a straight flight of stairs with two landings.
The builders completed the repaired and remodeled house just before Jackson returned from Washington in 1837 at the end of his second term. Inside, French wallpaper covered the walls 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 a story from Greek literature. 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.
Visited by Millions
Since opening as a museum in 1889, approximately 16 million people from around the world have toured the Hermitage mansion, which historians consider the best-preserved early U.S. presidential home. An award- winning interior restoration was completed during the years 1989-1997. 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.