Sadly this past New Year’s weekend was spent traveling to Tennessee to attend the funeral of Uncle John. Our trip from Spokane to Nashville and on to Big Sandy, Tennessee, took just over a day; we were able to pay our respects and participate in the burial of Uncle Johnny beside his beloved wife, Molly, who passed a year earlier. It was sad — but nice at the same time. John lived to the ripe age of 88 and was ready to move on.
After the funeral we headed back to Nashville where we had a day and a half before our flight home — which coincided with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. We had previously visited Nashville only once some 20 years earlier. In the intervening years the city has grown and even with the bad economy seems to be prospering. We spent some time driving around the city, revisiting old landmarks including Vanderbilt University and Downtown Nashville. We also briefly visited Centennial Park, a nice 132 acre park with a full-scale reproduction of the Parthenon (though built of concrete rather than stone).
Most everything — including Nashville’s famed country music venues — was closed on New Year’s Day except for President Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage. For us this was a perfect place to spend the day as we love to explore our country’s history.
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States, the first President from the West (Tennessee at that time was considered the Western USA). Jackson bore the nickname “Old Hickory”, and his image has been seen by hundreds of millions as it decorates our 20 dollar bill. He was often described as a “colorful character”, the General who won victory at the Battle of New Orleans. He was a hearty frontiersman who survived an assassination attempt (the guns misfired) before he turned and attacked the would-be assassin, and had once won a duel to the death. He had a complicated philosophy — vigorously defending individual liberty yet being a proponent of slavery. He deeply loved his wife, Rachel, and blamed her death on the destructive partisan politics of the era, something that seems little changed these past two centuries. On his tomb only the simple “General Andrew Jackson” is inscribed (Like Thomas Jefferson before him, he did not include holding the office of the Presidency on his epitaph).
The Hermitage was primarily a 1000 acre cotton plantation but also held the residence of the President. It is commonly visited, as it has been for nearly two hundred years. It was a rare day after his retirement that there were no guests at Jackson’s dinner table or staying in the guest room(s) of the Hermitage. Since The Hermitage opened as a public museum in 1889 over 15 million people have visited it.
A visit to the Hermitage starts at the Visitor Center where an informative 15 minute film provides an introduction to President Jackson’s life and The Hermitage. There are a few interesting exhibits and a small museum, as well as store and cafe, but don’t linger too long here. Take your audio-guide (included with your admission) and head out to explore the Hermitage’s grounds and the President’s home. The place is peaceful and lovely — an oasis in Nashville’s urban sprawl.
You will be given a tour of the President’s residence by a charming group of ladies in period costumes who provide detailed information on what life at the Hermitage was like during the early nineteenth century. The house has been carefully restored and has many original furnishings and wallpaper; Jackson’s books, swords and portraits are as they were when the President lived here.
Your audio-guide will help you explore the Hermitage grounds including the its garden (where Jackson’s tomb and a small family cemetery are situated), slave’s cabins and the farm. There is an optional Nature trail. It was a pleasantly relaxing and informative visit and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Americana.
Being in the south we had to have a dinner of catfish and hush puppies — our favorite southern food. Fortunately our favorite place for this was still up and thriving some 20 years since we last visited it — the Cock of the Walk. I’d whole heartedly recommend it to anyone interested in a fine traditional catfish southern-style meal.
(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge, then right arrow to advance slideshow)