Preservation

 
 
Preservation

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 completed the purchase of The Hermitage in 1856 with the intention of preserving the property as a "shrine" to Andrew Jackson, an American hero and the 7th U.S. president.Mansion by Pierson, 1881

It is important to note that in the mid-nineteenth century, historic preservation did not exist as it does today. Only a handful of American landmarks, such as Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Mount Vernon in Virginia, had been preserved as American icons. The Hermitage joined that select group in 1856. Here is a brief overview of the extraordinary story of preserving Andrew Jackson's Hermitage.

Andrew Jackson (1808-1865)

In 1845, Jackson's adopted son Andrew Jackson, Jr. inherited the vast cotton plantation. He had a reputation of being a poor businessman and farm manager. The following year, he began selling off outlying parcels of the farm. In 1853, he mortgaged the Hermitage farm due to mounting business debts. In 1854, the State of Tennessee suggested that the Federal government purchase the property for use as a southern branch of the West Point Military Academy. Congress refused to make the purchase.

State of Tennessee

In 1855, Andrew Jackson, Jr. sold a 500-acre core section of the Hermitage farm, including the mansion and outbuildings, for $48,000 to the State of Tennessee. This was the southern half of the farm. The transaction was completed in early 1856. The State intended to turn over the property to the Federal government for establishing a southern branch of the West Point Military Academy. However, the State allowed the Jackson family to remain at The Hermitage as caretakers. The following year, Andrew Jackson, Jr. sold the remaining 550 acres of the Hermitage farm to private owners. This was the northern half.

Strickland print, 1856Between 1857-1860, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate funded a study regarding the proposal to build a military school at The Hermitage. However, Congress debated the proposal with no resolution. The coming of the Civil War ended any dreams of a southern branch of the West Point Military Academy. The State of Tennessee also pondered different proposed uses of the unused public property, including a governor's mansion and a state agricultural institute. In the end, no proposed new government use was ever approved.

During the Civil War, the Jackson family remained at The Hermitage. Although several important battles took place at Nashville and the region, no military action took place at The Hermitage. However, thousands of militiamen passed by The Hermitage along the Lebanon Turnpike, a wagon road that had been constructed across the property in the 1830s. Many soldiers noted Jackson's farm as a local landmark in their travels through the South during the war.

At the end of the war and with the emancipation of all remaining American slaves in 1865, most of the former slaves left The Hermitage. However, a handful of black freedmen, including Alfred Jackson, remained at The Hermitage and surrounding neighborhood. Andrew Jackson, jr. died at The Hermitage in 1865 as the result of a hunting accident.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Americans renewed their reverance for Andrew Jackson. In 1880, the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Historical Society funded the erection of the Andrew Jackson Monument, a replica of equestrian statues erected in the 1850s at Washington and New Orleans, at the State Capitol in Nashville. During this period, increasing numbers of people from northern newspapers journalists to wealthy Nashvillians, began to make journeys to The Hermitage.

First Hermitage by Giers, 1867For example, in May 1880, a roundtrip "Grand Excursion" on a steamship plying the Cumberland River from the Nashville Wharf to The Hermitage cost 50 cents. These were the first "tourists" what would soon become one of the country's first historic site museums.

The Ladies' Hermitage Association

In 1888, the State of Tennessee considered using The Hermitage property as a new Tennessee Confederate Soldiers' Home. This plan proposed to convert the Hermitage mansion into a hospital-type institution for indigent and disable Confederate veterans. A group of wealthy Nashville women, including Andrew Jackson's descendants, protested this action and formed "The Ladies' Hermitage Assocation," modeled directly on the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union that had purchased George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in 1859. The major difference between these two groups was that the Mount Vernon women were active at the national level while the Hermitage women were more successful at the state and local levels.

Theordore Roosevelt and LHA, 1907

After several weeks of intense lobbying, on the last day of the session, the Tennessee State Legislature compromised and passed Bill No. 461 on April 5, 1889. This bill gave 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 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 exclusive and invitation-only until the 1980s when the Board of Trustees was abolished and membership opened up to anyone).

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, located "outside the view of the Hermitage grounds."

Tennessee Confederate Soldier's Home, ca.1900In July 1889, the LHA held its first fundraising "excursion" to The Hermitage and opened the property as a public institution. Held 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, which had fallen into disrepair and was in fact a "tumbling ruin." Jackson and his family had lived in this two-story log farmhouse from 1804-1821 before the mansion was completed. Later in the 1820s the log Hermitage farmhouse had been converted into a single-story slave cabin where dozens of slaves lived until the 1850s. The restoration of the "First Hermitage" in 1889 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 soon preservation work began on the Hermitage mansion, the Hermitage Church, the Garden and Tomb, and other original outbuildings. 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, and a home for the caretakers as well as a large pond containing water for fighting fires.

First Hermitage after restoration, 1906In the 1920s, Jackson's original horse stable and a then new support building had been destroyed by a disastrous fire. 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 1920s, the Tennessee Army National Guard had constructed an airport on a section of Jackson's original farm, which Andrew Jackson, Jr. had sold in 1857 to private property owners. This was Nashville's second airport and it 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. But, the LHA fought the proposal tooth-and-nail, even travelling to Washington to argue against the proposal that would 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.

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 miltary manuevers on the Hermitage farm and they 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 60-acre tract of land containing the old airport in order to preserve it. In the 1960s, the LHA 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 renovated it in the 1830s.

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 '70s Nashville had grown from a sleepy southern city into a boomtown and suburban growth surrounded The Hermitage. A commercial developer proposed to subdivide the remaining 460 acres of original Hermitage land that Andrew Jackson, Jr. had sold in 1857. However, 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.

It took over 110 years, but in 2003 the LHA finally had control of the entire 1,050-acre Hermitage cotton plantation that Andrew Jackson owned when he died in 1845. Today, the LHA manages 1,120 acres, making The Hermitage one of the largest and most popular (currently ranked #13 nationally) historic site museums in America.

Beginning in 1970, the LHA has used historic archaeology as a tool for historic preservation. That year, foundations the Hermitage mansion's kitchen were documented during a repair project. In the mid-1970s large-scale archaeological excavations were undertaken at the First Hermitage cabins. In 1988, the LHA established a permanent Archaeology Department and has undertaken annual archaeological exacavations since then, accumulating nearly 1 million artifacts, primarily related to slavery and slave sites. This work has made The Hermitage a leader in the field of historic archaeology as a preservation and educational tool. Through our excavations of Jackson's former slave sites, historians and scholars have a new and much better understanding of American slavery during the Jacksonian Era.

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 in 1989-1997 and a $1.1 million restoration of the First Hermitage cabins in 1999-2005. 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, receiving a $340,000 federal grant in 2001.

In recent years, the LHA has received much national acclaim and recognition for its historic preservation leadership. In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded The Hermitage with its prestigious "Stewardship Award," which had been given out only eight times prior. In 2004, HGTV chose the First Hermitage Restoration as one of only 12 sites across the U.S. for its "Restore America: Celebrating Historic Preservation" program and provided a $50,000 grant for restoration work.

In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation provided a grant for completing a dendrodating project at Alfred's Cabin. Administered by scientists at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, this project used tree ring science to determine that Alfred's Cabin had been built as a log slave cabin in 1843. An earlier dendrodating project, funded by a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission, in 2001 determined the First Hermitage farmhouse was built in 1798-1800 and the First Hermitage kitchen was built in 1806. These were the first known dendrodating projects of slave cabins in American history.

Preserving The Hermitage is ongoing. Work started in the 1850s continues today as we use the latest in science and technology to preserve this extraordinary American landmark. We use archaeology, dendrodating, finish and paint analysis, and other techniques to preserve, restore, and repair all of Andrew Jackson's original buildings and land. Our goal is to restore the farm to as near as it looked during Jackson's lifetime as possible so that our visitors have a better understanding of Andrew Jackson, his family, his slaves, and life during Jacksonian America.

Check back as we continue to expand and update the Preservation section of this website. If you have questions or need additional information, contact the Director of Preservation at preservation@thehermitage.com.