A Day at The Hermitage
Temperatures had dropped because of a cold front that had moved in overnight so Tuesday morning we awoke to temps in the mid-40’s. Since the forecast called for temps in the high 60’s by the afternoon, I debated on what to wear for the day. I still refused to believe that we were further north so I still couldn’t bring myself to put on the long pants. With the cooler temps, though we knew it would be a perfect day to tour The Hermitage.
Since there were no breakfast restaurants nearby except for several Waffle Houses we finally decided that we had no choice but to try one. We’ve observed that the Waffle House chain (predominately southern) is as prolific as fungus after a rainstorm – there literally seems to be one on every street corner. They are open 24 hours/day, 365 days a year, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For some reason, we had it in our heads that this was a fast food type of place, but that’s not the case! Turns out they serve a decent, reasonably priced full service breakfast.
When we entered, several of the staff greeted us with a friendly “how y’all doin’ today”! Seating choices included booths and chairs at a fairly long counter in front of the open cooking area. Prices are very reasonable – we both ordered 2 eggs with hash browns (or grits) with toast for $3.69! I think coffee was $1.59 so for a little over $10, we had a really yummy breakfast.
We were saying that it was unfortunate that we had passed up lots of opportunities to eat at one of these places since January (often they are in places where it is fairly easy to park the Discovery). Guess we’re now Waffle House converts! It’s likely though that the individual franchises may vary in service level based on the local ownership. Also, our guess is that service will probably be fairly slow if they are really busy.
After breakfast, we set off for The Hermitage. Since Seven Points was located in the town of Hermitage, you would think it would have been pretty easy to find the place. Wrong! For some reason, both GPS ladies took us around in circles (maybe they had stayed up to late the night before). But after finally deciding to ignore their nagging babble, we finally figured things out and arrived about 11:45 a.m.
The AAA book labels this attraction as a “Gem” and it sure lived up to that adjective. After paying the entrance fee of $31 total for both of us (normally the fee is $18 but the senior rate was $15 and the AAA rate was $16), we were directed to an area where we were given an audio headset for the self-guiding tour, along with instructions on how to correlate the numbers on the map to the tour.
We were also told that there would be a brief film in the theater in 20 minutes. Not a problem – there was plenty to do while waiting since there were a lot of exhibits lining the walls as well as a museum which we toured after we watched the movie. The 15 minute movie, narrated by Martin Sheen, was a good intro into Jackson’s life, giving a general synopsis of his military and political careers.
We learned so much that day, it’s hard to know where to begin and what to write about. I think overall we learned that Andrew Jackson was a very complex man. He was nicknamed “Old Hickory” because of his toughness and aggressive personality and reportedly had a quick temper, often backing his opinions with fists or pistols, even sometimes killing his opponents in duels.
As a general, he was tough but his men loved him. As a slave owner, if the slaves obeyed him, he was somewhat compassionate towards them, thinking of them as family. Unlike other slave owners, he would not split up the slave families. But if a slave disobeyed him or tried to escape, he would quickly punish them. If someone found one of his slaves, he would pay to have them give the escapee 300 lashes. It is said that many of his slaves cried with joy when he returned from Washington after Presidency and even more interesting some stayed at The Hermitage working for him even after they were freed.
In 1791, he fell in love with Rachel Donelson Robards. This is an interesting story – Rachel was forced to marry at a young age to Captain Lewis Robards (in his forties), who had irrational fits of jealous rage causing the two to separate in 1790. Andrew and Rachel married after thinking that Robards had obtained a divorce. But, unbeknownst to them, the divorce was never completed so her marriage to Andrew was considered bigamous and invalid (even though it was Robards that was the bigamist!).
The divorce was finally obtained and Andrew and Rachel were remarried in 1794. But throughout her life Rachel was still falsely ostracized and criticized for her bigamous relationship. Some historians think the stress of this situation may have even been a root cause of her early death.
Jackson’s military life began in the Revolutionary War when he joined the militia at the age of 13 as a courier. But he is probably most famous for defeating the British in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans which was the decisive major battle of the War of 1812.
From a political perspective, he appealed to the “common man” of the United States, and fought against what he denounced as a closed, undemocratic aristocracy and is generally credited with founding what is now the Democratic party. He started out as a lawyer, eventually becoming a Solicitor (prosecutor) in Western Tennessee. In 1796, he was elected as a State Representative but then a year later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He resigned from the Senate a year later and became a judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
In 1828, he was elected President after narrowly losing to John Quincy Adams in 1824. (In the 1824 election neither candidate had the necessary majority of electoral votes, so the House of Representatives made the decision.)
As President, Jackson supported a small and limited federal government. He was supportive of states’ rights, but during the Nullification Crisis, declared that states do not have the right to nullify federal laws.
Strongly against the national bank, he vetoed the renewal of its charter and ensured its collapse. He also aggressively enforced the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) – this was known as the Trail of Tears and over 4000 died (of 15000 relocated), a shameful example of what can probably be best described as ethnic cleansing.
Jackson’s protection of popular democracy and individual liberty for United States citizens has been acknowledged by historians but his support for slavery and for his role in Indian removal has been strongly criticized.
Besides his legal and political career, Jackson prospered as cotton planter, slave owner, and merchant. He built a home and the first general store in Gallatin, Tennessee in 1803. The next year he acquired the Hermitage, a 640-acre plantation near Nashville.
The Hermitage was built in 1819 in a Greek Revival Style. Jackson later added more acres to the plantation until it eventually grew to 1,050 acres. The primary crop was cotton, grown by enslaved workers. Starting with five slaves, Jackson later owned 150 slaves, making him one of the elite planters. In 1834, while he was in Washington, the Hermitage was severely damaged by fire. In 1837, Jackson had the house rebuilt painting the front white to conceal the smoke that blackened the bricks.
Jackson loved his Hermitage estate and today there is still significant archeological study occuring there. If you want to learn more details about Jackson and the Hermitage, click here.
Okay, now back to 2012 and the tour…
After leaving the building, we walked along a paved path towards the gardens. How beautiful they were even though a lot of flowers weren’t in bloom yet except for lots of yellow and purple irises and some of the peonies.
After walking through the gardens, the path led us over to the mansion where we were greeted by a docent in costume who was there to answer any questions we might have about the Jacksons.
Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside (the picture of the dining room was taken from outside). As we entered inside, we were greeted by another docent who explained that all the furniture and the wallpaper throughout were originals. Strolling through the first floor we were able to view each room from the hallway. Then upstairs we got to see the bedrooms used by Andrew and Rachel and the bedrooms used by their “adopted” son, Andrew Jackson Jr. and his children. Andrew and Rachel never had any biological children of their own.
Outside the mansion was a separate small building where the kitchen was located. It was separate from the house so as to prevent any possibility of the house catching on fire. Next to that was the smokehouse where the meat, primarily pork, was prepared in big troughs and later smoked.
Following the path through the gardens led us over to the Jackson tomb and family cemetery. Both Rachel, who died in 1828 (two years before he was elected President), and Andrew Jackson, who died in 1845, were buried here.
Walking back through the gardens, we passed by Alfred’s cabin which was built in the 1830 time frame. Alfred had been born into slavery at The Hermitage around 1812. After Emancipation, Alfred, now a freedman, stayed on as caretaker and tour guide after the Ladies’ Hermitage Association took over the administration of the property in 1889. In 1901, he was buried at his request in the garden beside the Jackson tomb.
From there the path continued to the limestone Springhouse which covered a flowing spring. The spring supplied water for the household and kept food cool. Following the path next to the small stream eventually led us to the excavation site where the private domain of the Hermitage mansion ended and the working plantation began. The foundations of three homes of the field workers have been excavated. These one room dwellings often housed slave families with eight to ten children.
Passing by pastures and the original site of the plantation’s cotton gin and press, our walk eventually led us to the First Hermitage Cabins. This is where the Jackson family initially lived in a two story log farmhouse when General Jackson led the victorious American troops in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Later after the Hermitage had been built, the buildings were reconfigured as slave quarters by removing the 2nd floor (based on the customs of the day, it would not be proper for a slave to have a two story residence).
On our way back to the main entrance, we passed by what used to be the foundation for the ice house.
By now, our feet were hurting and our brains were throbbing painfully from information overload. Time to head back to Seven Points where we relaxed next to the campfire that night.
Overall, a very informative day! There was so much information that it would be impossible to repeat or even attempt to summarize everything that we learned. If you are in the Nashville area, learn about Jackson yourself by visiting The Hermitage!
A little side note regarding a reference in the hermitage museum relative to our post about the Tiffin factory tour – a display in the museum had the steel remains of a “Phaeton” which is a small, sporty one horse carriage. We hadn’t previously thought much about the meaning of this name that Tiffin uses for one of their coaches, however, besides it’s roots in Greek mythology, several other vehicles and British ships have shared the title.
Hey Guys – Okay, I personally REALLY LIKE Waffle House. Took the fam there once and they were not so enthusiastic. I visit fairly regularly when traveling on business. Gotta have the hash browns all the different ways. Smothered, etc. My last stop was a few weeks ago in Springfield, MO and I learned all about MO tornado patterns. Just don’t go too often in one week.
GREAT insight on the Hermitage! We’ve driven through Nashville several times and I’ve always wanted to go. One reason is that we’ve been to the homes of presidents 1-6 and 8-9. Anyway, it’s never happened. Your narrative and photos are fabulous, and will set a great foundation for our next visit which will be our next drive through Music City! Thanks for the details!
Sounds like y’all have never seem the movie “The President’s Lady” with Charlston Heston & Susan Hayworth. It’s one of my favorite love stories. We’ve been to The Hermitage & was surprised at how small the house is. Safe travels.
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