President Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States of America serving from 1829 to 1837. The Hermitage in Nashville was the living quarters of Jackson and his family. It was also a cotton and tobacco plantation. Today, the Hermitage is regarded by many as the best preserved early Presidential home. I have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to visit this site.
The Hermitage is divided into a visitor center (museum), the actual Hermitage mansion, and the plantation grounds. As opposed to telling the story of President Jackson, it also endeavours to display and interpret the stories of the slaves who worked on the plantation. I’ll talk about this a bit later on.
When you arrive at the Hermitage your first stop is the visitor center. In here you learn about the life and times of Andrew Jackson. My knowledge of early American Presidents is very limited so I was relieved to read a bit of context before seeing the mansion. I equally enjoyed how the museum employed visuals and interactive elements to reduce the amount of text on display. Take, for example, the Battle of New Orleans. Apart from a few objects scattered around the place and a couple of thematic text panels, in the middle of the exhibition was a large interactive computer. This explained the important elements of the battle and kept things interesting.
For an introductory museum, a lot of information was covered in a small space. I left with a general gist of who Jackson was and why he was important. I feel as though I belonged in the target audience of the museum (limited knowledge). For those who are more familiar, the museum may be a little too basic. However, in saying that the objects are very much worth seeing.
After the center we walked up to the mansion. When you reach the front door a staff member dressed in period clothing greets you and takes you on a 20-30 minute tour. It’s really a beautiful mansion containing original wallpaper and furniture. The staff we encountered were incredibly knowledgeable and this really added to the experience.
When you exit the house the tour of the grounds begin. This is self-guided tour with an audio guide unit. Unfortunately it was raining too heavily for us to listen to the audio. We basically ran from location to location to avoid the cold. Although Jackson is obviously mentioned on the grounds tour, there is a shift in focus to the slaves and the plantation. There is a really nice walk you can do that starts at the back of the gardens and takes you on a short journey to see the slave quarters. It is great to see the Hermitage not shying away from this history but embracing and displaying it.
The grounds also include the graves of the Jackson family and the original Hermitage building. There were a lot of text panels scattered throughout and we tried to read them all! Many were on the archaeological excavations that have occurred at the site and the objects that have been uncovered. Many of these objects relate to the slaves including buttons, marbles, combs, and even small toys. They can be seen in the preserved log cabins.
Overall, the Hermitage is a great place to spend a day. There is so much to see and even more to learn!