NPS Logo

Historical Background

Biographical Sketches

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark The Hermitage
The Hermitage
The Hermitage

Davidson County, on Old Hickory Boulevard, just off U.S. 70N, about 12 miles northeast of Nashville.

For more than four decades, during which time Andrew Jackson rose from a frontier militia commander to the Presidency, he made this estate, in the rolling middle Tennessee hills, his home. The residence preserved there today is the one he completed during his second term as President and appears almost exactly as it did at the time of his death.

Between 1791, the year Jackson married Rachel Donelson Robards, daughter of one of the founders of Nashville, and 1804 he lived on various tracts in the vicinity. In the latter year, however, he purchased 625 acres of land, the nucleus of a permanent estate, The Hermitage, and moved into a group of log structures already standing on the property. The Jacksons used a large two-story structure that had once served as a blockhouse as their principal living quarters and three smaller cabins for storage and guest accommodations.

Jackson settled down to the life of a planter. Although he derived his main income from cultivating cotton and corn, he held interests in various other enterprises, including part ownership of a tavern, a racetrack, and a boatyard. As he prospered and emerged as one of the prominent men in the region, he entertained various distinguished guests in his log home. Among them were Aaron Burr and President James Monroe.

The Hermitage
The Hermitage. (National Park Service, Boucher, 1971.)

In 1813 Jackson's career took a significant turn. During the Creek Indian uprising of that year in Alabama, he commanded the Tennessee militia and attained the rank of major general. His success at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814) earned him a major general's commission in the U.S. Army. His victory over the British in January 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans, the final action in the War of 1812, made him a national hero.

Jackson returned to The Hermitage, where he remained until 1817 when he left once more, this time to conduct a 2-year campaign against the Seminole Indians and Spanish forces in Florida. When the Spaniards ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, Jackson was appointed as provisional Governor of Florida Territory. After a short tour of duty, however, he resigned and again trekked back to The Hermitage. In 1823-25 he served in the U.S. Senate.

The Hermitage
The Hermitage, Jackson's dome-shaped tomb, and the Andrew J. Donelson residence, Tulip Grove. (Lithograph, 1856, by Endicott & Co., apparently after a drawing by architect Francis W. Strickland, Library of Congress.)

Meantime, in 1818-19 Jackson had erected a brick house near the log structure he had lived in for 15 years. The new residence was a square building two stories high. On each floor were four rooms each with fireplace, divided into pairs by large central halls. At his estate, Jackson, who continued to prosper in private and public life, entertained many nationally prominent figures, including Lafayette in 1824. That same year, he ran for President but lost.

Mantel of rough-cut hickory in the dining room at The Hermitage. (National Park Service, Boucher, 1971.)

In January 1829, when Jackson departed for his Presidential inauguration in Washington, he left behind the grave of his beloved wife, Rachel, who had died only a few weeks earlier. Two years later, his grief was somewhat assuaged by the marriage of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., to Sarah York, a favorite of the President. Learning that the couple intended to move into The Hermitage, he ordered that it be remodeled. Alterations included the addition of a one-story wing at each side and front and rear porches. The front one extended across the first story of the house except at the entrance, where it rose to two stories and was topped by a pediment. Other improvements included construction of a stone memorial over Mrs. Jackson's grave and the erection of a detached kitchen and smokehouse. The entire house was also freshly papered and painted.

In 1834 fire gutted the interior. During the rebuilding, completed in the following year, Jackson made several changes. He raised the ceilings of all the rooms, enlarged and rearranged the windows, converted both the porches to two-story galleries with Corinthian columns, and bricked in a covered entrance in the east wing to create a side hall. The front elevation of the house was painted white to hide smoke damage. In 1837, at the end of his second term in the White House, Jackson retired to The Hermitage. He lived out the rest of his days there as an elder statesman, entertaining the great and near-great. In 1845 he died and was laid to rest in the garden beside his wife.

At that time, The Hermitage consisted of about 1,200 acres. Andrew Jackson, Jr., who inherited it, was a poor manager and soon lost all but 500 acres. In 1856, hopelessly in debt, he sold the remainder of the property, including the residence, to the State. It subsequently considered donating the estate to the Federal Government as the site for a military academy, but never did so.

Andrew, Jr., who moved to Mississippi in 1858, returned to The Hermitage 2 years later at the request of Gov. Isham G. Harris to serve as custodian. In 1865 he died. His widow, Sarah, and son, Andrew III, lived in the house until the former's death in 1887. Two years later, the Ladies' Hermitage Association, which was conceived by Mrs. Andrew Jackson III and incorporated that year, applied to the State for permission to administer the mansion as a Jackson shrine. Subsequently, the State conveyed to the association the house, tomb, outbuildings, and 25 acres.

Except for the tree-lined, guitar-shaped driveway, which dates from 1837, The Hermitage today appears as it did after the 1835 reconstruction. From the broad front portico with flagstone floor, double doors lead to the central hall, which is dominated by a circular staircase. The walls of the hall are covered with scenic French wallpaper. To the left of the hall are double parlors connected by folding doors. Each of these chambers has a marble mantelpiece. From the front parlor, a doorway enters into the dining room and pantry in the west wing. To the right of the central hall are a cross hall and two bedrooms. The hall leads to the east wing, which contains an entry hall; a library-office; and the steward's, or overseer's, room. Four bedrooms and a central hall are upstairs.

Fanciful version of Jackson's death. (Lithograph, 1845, by J. Baittie or Baillie, Library of Congress.)

The Ladies' Hermitage Association has furnished the house with Jackson possessions and has acquired about 600 acres of adjacent land. A few historic outbuildings are extant on the property, including what is believed to be the original log Hermitage, other log cabins, and a stone springhouse. A museum structure and a log cabin used by the association are of recent origin. The tomb of President and Mrs. Jackson is in the garden.

Directly across the highway from The Hermitage is Tulip Grove, also operated by the Ladies' Hermitage Association and open to the public. This fine brick residence, completed in 1836, was the home of Andrew Jackson Donelson, Rachel Jackson's nephew and secretary to her husband. Donelson's wife, Emily, acted as the White House hostess during most of the Jackson administration. Adjacent to Tulip Grove stands "Rachel's Church," a small structure erected in 1823 with Jackson's financial assistance.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004