Homes of U.S. Presidents, Part 2: The Jacksonian Era

From Jackson to Polk

With the exception of Presidents Adams and John Quincy Adams, our first six presidents were all from Virginia. Part 2 demonstrates the expansion of the American people West from the Colonial homefront. The Jacksonian presidential homes are located four different states, including two out in the wilds of Tennessee. Known for considering themselves representatives of "common Americans," our five Jacksonian presidents are: Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and James K. Polk.

Visiting Presidential Homes, Part 2

This is Part 2 of an on-going series on the homes, grave sites, and libraries of U.S. Presidents.

Some presidential residences are maintained by well-funded volunteer groups or the National Park Service and offer an entire day's worth of home and garden tours, re-enactments, hands-on activities, dining, and more. Other homes may only offer an hour or two of sightseeing but are perfect for a side trip on the way to your final destination.

These homes and tours offer more than an education on the different presidents but also provide a look at how different regions and different economic classes lived during different eras in U.S. history.

Jackson's South Carolina birthplace monument.
Jackson's South Carolina birthplace monument.

7. Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson Birthplace
Where:
South Carolina Birthplace Monument: 196 Andrew Jackson Park Road off HWY 521 N Van Wyck community, SC 29720
North Carolina Marker: On State Route 75 in Waxhaw, Union County, North Carolina about 2-3 miles from the Museum of Waxhaws.

Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, just a few weeks after his father Andrew died in an accident at the age of 29. Just exactly where his mother, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson gave birth is a continuing debate between North and South Carolina. To his dying day, and even in his Last Will & Testament, Jackson himself always stated that he was born in what became South Carolina:

"I was born in So Carolina, as I have been told, at the plantation whereon James Crawford lived about one mile from the Carolina Road X of the Waxhaw Creek."
--Andrew Jackson to J.H. Witherspoon, August 11, 1824

At the time of his birth, state lines had not yet been drawn. North Carolina did not stake claim to Jackson's birthplace until 15 years after his 1845 death.

The best summary of Jackson's birth is from the Museum of the Waxhaws:

"Andrew Jackson, Sr., died in late February, 1767. Betty traveled south to the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church to bury her husband. On the return trip, she gave birth to Andrew Jackson . . .. [A]s of yet no definitive evidence has arisen to authenticate the exact location of Andrew Jackson’s birth on March 15, 1767.

"Betty Jackson sold the home in North Carolina and moved in with the family of her sister at the Crawford Plantation just across the border in South Carolina. Young Andrew remained here until after the death of his mother and brothers during the American Revolution. . . . At the age of 21, Andrew Jackson moved west to Tennessee and never returned to the Waxhaws region."

Jackson believed that he was born in the South Carolina Waxhaw region, in a cabin at the Crawford plantation. The North Carolinians believe Elizabeth made it home from her trip to give birth at the Jackson cabin, which was located in what is now North Carolina. According to the Museum of the Waxhaws, which refuses to take sides in the matter, the testimony of a Mrs. Sarah Lathen claims that her mother, a midwife, was present at Jackson’s birth at the cabin in North Carolina. Either way, the Jackson cabin and the Crawford plantation cabin are located only a few miles from each other. The Museum emphasizes that Jackson was born in the Waxhaws region, which encompasses areas on both sides of the border.

In South Carolina, the carved stone monument is located on land that was once Crawford's plantation home and is now part of Andrew Jackson State Park, near Van Wyck, South Carolina. In North Carolina, another stone monument marks Jackson's birthplace just up the road from the Museum of the Waxhaws, which also features exhibits that focus on Andrew Jackson's early years.

Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, outside of Nashville.
Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, outside of Nashville. | Source
The back of The Hermitage, with detached kitchen to the right.
The back of The Hermitage, with detached kitchen to the right. | Source
Dining room at the Hermitage.
Dining room at the Hermitage.
Hermitage Entry, featuring Rachel's French wallpaper with Greek storyline.
Hermitage Entry, featuring Rachel's French wallpaper with Greek storyline.

Jackson's The Hermitage

Where: Nashville, Tennessee
When: Daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and the third week of January
Price: $5 to $17

After Washington and Jefferson's plantations, President Andrew Jackson's Hermitage is perhaps the most popular presidential home. Located just outside of Nashville, Jackson's cotton plantation was rescued from post-Civil War deterioration by the Ladies' Hermitage Association in 1889. The State of Tennessee bought the estate from the Jackson family in 1855, just 10 years after the President's death. Jackson's descendants remained on the property as caretakers throughout the Civil War.

Completely renovated and preserved on 25 acres of the 1,000-acre plantation, this National Landmark tells not only the story of our 7th U.S. President and his family but also openly discusses and reveals the lives of several members of the Hermitage slave families. A very well-presented exhibit on the stories of individual slaves is featured at the Information Center, which blends well with the surroundings and is placed inconspicuously and far away from the well known front approach through arched trees.

Jackson bought the original 640-acre farm from friend and neighbor Nathaniel Hays in 1804 and sold his more valuable Hunter's Hill plantation to payoff debts. The original Hermitage farmhouse was a two-story log cabin with a separate log kitchen that doubled as slave quarters for the cook and her family. These buildings, barely standing in the 1880s, were the first to be preserved and renovated.

Following his leadership in the War or 1812 and subsequent promotion to Major General, Jackson retired from Army life and built the first version of a brick Hermitage around 1819. The new Federal-style, two-story, 8-room mansion also included a series of formal gardens for his wife Rachel. The new construction added several out buildings that visitors can tour today, including a smokehouse and the separate kitchen. The foundations of several out buildings, including the ice house and cotton gin, have been discovered, but the buildings themselves had deteriorated or were demolished before preservation efforts began.

By 1820, Jackson had built his farm up to a 1,000-acre cotton plantation that included 44 slaves. While the foundations of many slave quarters have been unearthed, only the cabin of Uncle Alfred remains. This duplex log cabin was built around 1841 and remained Alfred's home after emancipation and until his death in 1901.

Shortly before departing for Jackson's presidential inauguration in 1828, Rachel suffered what is believed to have been a heart attack and died at The Hermitage. Many, including Jackson, believed the strain of the campaign and media slurs against Rachel caused her sudden death. The distraught President did not leave for Washington for another month.

While serving his two terms in Washington, Jackson enlarged the Hermitage again, adding one-story wings and a new entryway to the home. After a serious chimney fire in 1834, more architects were hired to rebuild the Hermitage, this time as a Greek-Revival mansion. This is the home which we tour today, and in which Jackson lived after his presidency, from 1837 until his death in 1845.

Because the family maintained ownership of the home, most of the furnishings remain from Jackson's later life, including those in his library, plantation office, dining room, bedroom and more. The French wallpaper that Rachel selected for the original home was re-ordered to replace what had been ruined in the fire. A reproduction of the Greek myth paper remains in the house today.

When planning to visit the Hermitage, consider allocating about two to three hours of your time. The website, thehermitage.com, is a thorough and helpful tool for planning your visit and includes a calendar of special events and happenings. Adults and elementary-age children alike will enjoy the beautiful grounds and interior rooms, educational tour, sense of history at the Hermitage.

Van Buren birthplace marker.
Van Buren birthplace marker.

8. Martin Van Buren

Birthplace Marker:
Where: 36 Hudson St., Kinderhook, New York

Born in 1782 in Kinderhook, New York, Martin Van Buren was the first president born a U.S. citizen and not a British subject. He was raised in a Dutch-speaking family and is our only Dutch-speaking president. Van Buren's parents farmed and ran a tavern in the little Hudson River town, located 16 miles south of Albany. His father apprenticed "Matty" to read law under at age 14. After studying law under his half-brother for seven years, Van Buren moved to New York City to study for one year under Abraham Van Ness, a friend of Aaron Burr. Van Buren's birthplace and childhood home at 36 Hudson Street in Kinderhook is remembered with a historical marker, as the building no longer stands.

Dutch speaking Martin Van Buren, our 8th President.
Dutch speaking Martin Van Buren, our 8th President.
Lindenwald, Kinderhook, New York. Home of Martin Van Buren.
Lindenwald, Kinderhook, New York. Home of Martin Van Buren.
Van Buren's office at Lindenwald.
Van Buren's office at Lindenwald.

Van Buren's Lindenwald

Where: Kinderhook, New York
When: Daily, from mid-May through October 31.
Price: $5 (National Park Service)

Born in 1782 in Kinderhook, New York, Martin Van Buren was the first president born a U.S. citizen and not a British subject. He was raised in a Dutch-speaking family and is our only Dutch-speaking president. Van Buren's parents farmed and ran a tavern in the little Hudson River town, located 16 miles south of Albany. His father apprenticed "Matty" to read law under at age 14. After studying law under his half-brother for seven years, Van Buren moved to New York City to study for one year under Abraham Van Ness, a friend of Aaron Burr. Van Buren's birthplace and childhood home at 36 Hudson Street in Kinderhook is remembered with a historical marker, as the building no longer stands.

Van Buren returned to Kinderhook to start his law practice and became very active in the newly formed Democratic party. He married childhood friend Hannah Hoes, and they had four boys and twelve years together before Hannah died. During those years, Van Buren served in the New York State Legislature and in its Senate.

By 1818, Van Buren had become the Democratic Party boss. In 1821, he left for Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Senator. Later, as Governor of New York, he campaigned hard for a Jackson presidency and was rewarded with the post of Secretary of State, followed by Vice President during Jackson's second term. Elected president in 1836, Van Buren inherited a financial disaster from his friend Jackson. This turned into the Panic of 1837 and remained an issue throughout Van Buren's presidency, limiting him to just one term in office.

After his presidency, Van Buren returned to Kinderhook and a farm he purchased there named Lindenwald. He lived at Lindenwald for twenty-one years, until his death in 1862.

Originally built in 1797 in the Georgian style, Van Buren and son Smith Van Buren oversaw a major renovation in 1849, adding a four-story brick tower, a central gable, attic dormers, and a new front porch. They had the whole house painted yellow to resemble an Italian villa and installed such modern amenities as an indoor bathroom, running water, a kitchen range, and central heating.

During his life at Lindenwald, Van Buren entertained politicians and launched two more unsuccessful campaigns for president. He operated his successful 225-acre vegetable farm and enjoyed sharing his home with his sons and their families. In fact, the 1849 addition added a school room for his grandchildren. During his administration, his daughter-in-law, Angelica, wife of son Abraham, served as the widowed president's hostess.

The house is still beautifully appointed with many original major furnishings, artwork and papers from Van Buren's life in the 1840s. The then-popular French scenery wallpaper still adorns his formal dining room, where he and fellow politicians planned the campaigns of the days. With a "modern" kitchen and a "downstairs" dining room for the servants, a visit to Lindenwald is an education in the domestic life of an upper class New Yorker in the pre-Civil War era. Van Buren's domestic help consisted mainly of Irish refugees who had escaped the infamous Potato Famine.

A trip to Lindenwald should also include a visit to the nearby village of Kinderhook. Still maintaining a strong Dutch influence, this small hamlet contains several historic landmarks, including:

  • Columbia County Historical Museum
  • Luykas Van Alen House: Built in 1737, this restored home represents 18th-century rural Dutch farm life and architecture.
  • Jacob Vanderpoel House: Also known as the House of History, this 1820 home is a near-perfect representation of the homes of the Federalist style, with their lightness of proportion, symmetry and delicate ornamentation.
  • Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse: Author Washington Irving was a frequent visitor to the Kinderhook area and modeled his Ichabod Crane off of a local school master. This one-room school house served some students in the area all the way into the 1940s. Now located on the Van Alen house grounds.


Berkeley Plantation, near Charles City, Virginia, birthplace of William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison.
Berkeley Plantation, near Charles City, Virginia, birthplace of William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison.
William Henry Harrison, 9th U.S. President.
William Henry Harrison, 9th U.S. President.
Grouseland, built by William Henry Harrison, in Indiana Territory and located in Vincennes, Indiana.
Grouseland, built by William Henry Harrison, in Indiana Territory and located in Vincennes, Indiana.
Grouseland warming kitchen.
Grouseland warming kitchen.
Grouseland formal parlor.
Grouseland formal parlor.

9. William Henry Harrison: Berkeley Plantation & Grouseland

Before the man who has the dubious title of "shortest presidency ever" took the oath of office, he was an elected official, territorial governor and a hardened battle hero.

William Henry Harrison, born in Virginia in 1773, only served 31 days as U.S. president before dying of pneumonia. But he left behind notable military and political careers, which included two historical residences and one of the most famous campaign slogans in U.S. history: "Tippecanoe & Tyler, Too." "Tippecanoe" refers to Harrison's famous victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe, near present day Lafayette, Indiana, against the Shawnees, their allies and Temcuseh's half-brother, The Prophet. "Tyler, Too" is John Tyler, Harrison's running mate.

Berkeley Plantation

Where: Charles City County, Virginia
When: Daily, except Thanksgiving & Christmas days
Price: $6-$11

Harrison's ancestral home is Berkeley Plantation, in Charles City County, Viriginia. The home is birthplace to not just William Henry Harrison but also to his grandson, President Benjamin Harrison.

Twenty miles north of historic Jamestown, Virginia, site of the first English colony, a trip to Berkeley Plantation is a good sidetrip for those en route from Jefferson's Monticello, near Charlottesville, to historic Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and a seaside vacation.

A classic Georgian mansion built by Harrison's grandfather in 1726, Berkeley was constructed of bricks actually fired on the property, which overlooks the James River. Rooms at Berkeley are appointed with beautiful examples of 18th-century antiques. An interesting feature of the plantation home is the original hand-hewn joists that can be seen in the basement ceiling.

The gardens and grounds are popular with many tourists. Five terraced gardens, dug before the Revolutionary War, lead down to the idyllic James River.

An hour to 1-1/2 hours is all that you need to plan for this estate.

Grouseland

Where: Vincennes, Indiana
When: Year round. Contact 812-882-2096 or e-mail grouseland@sbcglobal.net
Website: grouselandfoundation.org

Like many politicians and military personnel, Harrison moved frequently. The house selected as the "official" Harrison home is located in Vincennes, Indiana, where he served as governor of the Indiana Territory. Built in 1804 in the same style as Berkeley, Harrison's Grouseland features 26 rooms, 2-1/2 stories and 13 fireplaces. The brick Georgian served as both his family's home and Indiana Territory headquarters. The impressive "Council Chamber" room is where Harrison conducted much of his gubernatorial work and hosted several highly important conferences with leaders of the Indian Nations of the Old Northwest, including Shawnee leader Tecumseh.

Interesting features were incorporated into the home for purposes of protection from Indian attacks. Two false windows are in the front of the house, and a lookout in the attic, heavily barred basement windows, and a powder magazine all provided further defense during attacks. A basement well allowed residents to stay indoors for indefinite periods of time.

While Harrison's wife, Anny Symmes, and their children returned to her family's farm in North Bend, Ohio, at the onset of the War of 1812, Harrison stayed on to serve in the war effort, returning to North Bend in 1814. Grouseland remained in the family until 1848 and features many furnishings, artwork and papers from Harrison's family. In 1901, a local DAR chapter acquired the run-down Grouseland, restored it and opened it to the public.

Located adjacent to Vincennes University, Grouseland is a good sidetrip for those traveling to Chicago from the south, or to Kentucky from the north or northwest.

John Tyler, 10th President.
John Tyler, 10th President.
Sherwood Forest, the ca 1720 home of John Tyler, is the longest frame home in the U.S. and features a residential ghost.
Sherwood Forest, the ca 1720 home of John Tyler, is the longest frame home in the U.S. and features a residential ghost.
Sherwood Forest is still a private residence owned by the Tyler family.
Sherwood Forest is still a private residence owned by the Tyler family.

10. John Tyler: Sherwood Forest

Where: Charles City, Virginia
When: Ground Tours year round
Price: $10 for exterior self-tour
$35 for interior tour, by appointment (call 804 829-5377)

The first vice-president to assume office after the death of a sitting president, John Tyler was nicknamed, "His Accidency" by political foes. "Tyler Too" served as president all but the first 31 days of Harrison's presidency but was never elected in his own right, losing the 1845 election to James Polk. Twice the governor of Virginia, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator, Tyler was also a states' rights advocate who eventually served as a representative in the Confederate government.

Tyler was born at Greenway Plantation in 1790, four miles west of Sherwood Forest, to a federal judge who also served as Governor of Virginia and was a friend of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Tyler was married twice: first to Letitia Christian, who died in 1842; then, to Julia Gardiner.

Tyler purchased the 1600-acre Sherwood Forest Plantation from his cousin in 1842. The mansion was built in 1720 and was originally known as Smith's Hundred. Tyler renamed it Sherwood Forest in reference to his outlaw style of politics and lived there after his presidency and until his death in 1862. Today, Tyler's direct descendants still own and live at Sherwood Forest, which continues to hold the record for the longest frame home in the United States, at 300 feet.

Sherwood Forest is also the only presidential home, outside of the White House, to feature a resident ghost. Known as the the Gray Lady, this early American apparition has appeared to President Tyler and many of the Tyler family, guests and servants through the years.

Tours of the inside of the mansion are available by appointment. For $10, visitors can self-tour the grounds of the mansion year round, including 25 acres, 12 out buildings from the Tyler era, beautiful wooded areas, and extensive terraced gardens.

Located in Charles City, this stop, whether by appointment or to just view the exterior and gardens, is easily paired with President Harrison's birthplace, also located in Charles City.

James K. Polk, 11th President
James K. Polk, 11th President | Source
Polk's wife, Sarah Childress
Polk's wife, Sarah Childress | Source
James K. Polk House, Columbia, Tenn., built by his parents in 1816.
James K. Polk House, Columbia, Tenn., built by his parents in 1816. | Source
Burial site of James and Sarah Polk, Tennessee State Capital, Nashville.
Burial site of James and Sarah Polk, Tennessee State Capital, Nashville. | Source

11. James K. Polk: Ancestral Home

Where: Columbia, Tennessee
When: Daily, year round
Price: $4-$7

The only standing home in which our 11th president, James K. Polk, resided (with exception, of course, to the White House) is his parents' home in Columbia, Tennessee. His father Samuel, a surveyor and farmer, built this Federal-style brick home in 1816 while Polk was away at the University of North Carolina. Upon graduation, Polk lived with his parents while practicing law and beginning his political career. He lived there for six years, until his 1824 marriage to Sarah Childress.

The home to which the staunch Jacksonian Democrat retired after serving one term (Polk kept his promise to only serve four years) was located in downtown Nashville but was torn down in 1901. However, his parents' Columbia home features more than 1,000 items that belonged to the President and the stunning Mrs. Polk, including furniture, paintings, china and silver. In addition to touring the main residence, visitors can also tour The Sisters' House, which was built in 1820 for two of Polk's married sisters, who used it at different times. The Sisters' House features a Polk museum, orientation video and temporary exhibits. Its museum features campaign materials, White House momentos and more.

Columbia is located south of Nashville off of Interstate 65. The Polk House would make a good side trip on the way to or from Nashville, Atlanta or Florida.

James Polk Grave Site:

Polk and his wife are two of four people interred in Nashville on the grounds of the State Capital.

show route and directions
A markerAndrew Jackson: The Hermitage -
4580 Rachels Ln, Nashville, TN 37076, USA
[get directions]

B markerMartin Van Burn: Lindenwald -
1013 Old Post Rd, Kinderhook, NY 12106, USA
[get directions]

C markerW H Harrison: Berkeley Plantation -
12602 Harrison Landing Rd, Charles City, VA 23030, USA
[get directions]

D marker3 W Scott St, Vincennes, IN 47591 -
3 W Scott St, Vincennes, IN 47591, USA
[get directions]

E marker14501 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City, VA 23030 -
14501 John Tyler Memorial Hwy, Charles City, VA 23030, USA
[get directions]

F marker301 W 7th St, Columbia, TN -
301 W 7th St, Columbia, TN 38401, USA
[get directions]

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