If you find yourself driving across the never-ending corridor of I-40 from one corner of Tennessee to the other, you may start to see signs directing you to pull over and visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville and similar brochures gracing the cover of the every visitors’ center stands. After all, the Hermitage is a U.S. presidential home, and how often do you get to peek behind the curtain of a former world leader?
The Hermitage spans more than 1,000 acres and contains two mansions, reconstructed slave quarters, a museum, a cafe, a wine-tasting room and a dense, sprawling exhibit of historical artifacts.
This post is a partnership with Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. All opinions are our own.
But what does a visit to the Hermitage really entail? If you’re heading to Nashville—or passing through on an I-40 road trip soon—here’s everything you need to know about visiting Andrew Jackson’s former home.
The history of Andrew Jackson
Virtually every American president carries around baggage. Those who rose to high levels of power and authority during the era of slavery and the concerted effort to drive Native Americans into extinction, in particular, have plenty of heavy, morally suspect deeds and accomplishments associated with their names.
Andrew Jackson, the seventh president who lived from 1767 who 1845, is no exception. Before becoming a wealthy landowner with hundreds of enslaved people working his property, he speculated on Native American land through various ownership schemes. He also grew up dirt poor, lost his entire family by the age of 15 and defeated the British multiple times. Like all humans, he contained layers.
As Americans, we have a peculiar relationship with celebrities like President Jackson and often look past the nitty-gritty of how these mythical figures in history actually lived their lives. It’s an almost impenetrable fog sometimes, to think about an era of our society when these things were not only possible, but celebrated and cheered.
So how do we process complicated, uncomfortable topics like slavery? Jackson quite possibly owned in excess of 500 human beings throughout his lifetime. The only way to digest and purge these past sins is by continuing to honor those who were enslaved and to visit the historic sites that tell their stories so we can learn firsthand.
What’s impressive about the Hermitage, located just outside of Nashville on 1,120 of rolling, pastoral Tennessee land, is that the cotton plantation home run by slaves that created much of Andrew Jackson’s wealth, is that they don’t shy away from teaching about this history, instead embracing the evolving understanding of one of our most consequential Founding Fathers, whose visage still graces the $20 bill today.
It’s impossible to summarize the contradictions on the past here in a single blog post, which is why we encourage you to explore more, to read more, to study and think more about how everything has come to be where we are right now, and The Hermitage is one of those iconic, must-see locations that go quite a ways toward understanding the history of this state and our country.
The Hermitage experience
Arriving on the grounds of the Hermitage, you’ll immediately notice how large and uncluttered the surrounding lands are. The museum heritage foundation has somehow managed to preserve and own enough real estate around the mansion that it feels akin to how it would have to historical contemporaries.
Once you park, you’ll buy tickets, then enter the museum to the right where can peruse the exhibits about Jackson’s life and watch a 17-minute film prior to touring the mansion and the grounds.
Visiting the mansion
If you want to step inside Jackson’s former home, you’ll need to book a mansion tour. Mansion tours take place every 15 minutes and take approximately 20 minutes to complete. You’ll walk through the historic home with your group as interpretative guides tell you about each room and its use.
As history nerds who love old homes and renovations plans, we were fascinated to see the various architectural renderings of this 1800s mansion through the decades; it was built as a Federal-style home, then became a Greek Revival mansion after a fire demanded parts of the home be rebuilt; columns were added to make the home look more contemporary for the period.
We learned that Jackson was a frugal homeowner—and the only president to pay off the national debt—which was reflected in his materials for the house. The doors and other features are not exotic mahogany as they appear, yet tulip poplar harvested from the grounds that was painted to look expensive.
photos courtesy of the Andrew Jackson Foundation
The guided VIP Tour (daily at 10am and 2pm) is ideal for the curious traveler who has questions and wants them answered while experiencing the grounds and mansion in real time. You’ll spend 90 minutes with an experienced guide in a small group setting and enjoy special access to the mansion balcony (not offered on the regular mansion tour).
photos courtesy of the Andrew Jackson Foundation
If you’re visiting the Hermitage and can carve out the time, I highly recommend the In Their Footsteps tour (daily at 1pm), which focuses specifically on the stories of the enslaved men and women who lived at the Hermitage both during Andrew Jackson’s life and beyond his death. Tour guides touch upon the importance of the slaves to the operation of the plantation and what all they endured, and you’ll learn about individuals like Alfred, who continued to live at the Hermitage after emancipation and was one of the estate’s first tour guides when it was opened to the public.
photo courtesy of the Andrew Jackson Foundation
Tickets for these special tours include access to the Mansion and discounted wine tastings for guests of age.
Another unique way to see the grounds is by horse-drawn wagon. Offered daily in small groups, The Hermitage Enslaved: A Wagon Tour carts visitors out into the plantation fields where the enslaved men, women, and children worked and lived under the ownership of Andrew Jackson. It’s a more immersive way to understand what took place on these grounds not all that long ago.
Touring the grounds
Even if you’re on limited time and don’t opt to tour the mansion, you can still purchase a grounds pass for a discounted price. The Grounds Pass gives you access to the expansive land comprising thriving gardens, Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s tombs, the family cemetery, field quarters, historical markers and wildlife (we spotted Cooper hawks and a whole family of deer!).
You’ll also want to watch the exhibit and film at the visitors’ center before you start your roaming.
Dogs are welcome visitors on the Hermitage grounds, so long as they stay on their leashes. They cannot enter any of the buildings, nor can they drink the wine. The Grounds Pass also gives you discounted wine tasting at the onsite tasting room, Natchez Hills Winery at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.
Eating and drinking the cafe
Once you’re done with your mansion tour, the Hermitage experience doesn’t stop there. You’ll want to get a taste of true Southern food via the on-site cafe, Bailey & Cato. Served cafeteria style, you’ll go through the line and choose from a mix of buffet-style items and made-to-order entrees like fried catfish, grilled Pimento cheese, green beans, mac and cheese, meatloaf, candied yams and other Southern staples.
But what’s a hearty meal without something with which to wash it down? Natchez Hills Winery and Vineyard shares the restaurant space with Bailey & Cato, offering wine tastings, as well as full pours and wine by the bottle. I’d be a bad tour guide if I didn’t tell you to sample the wine slushee on a warm day and mix the two options for a delightful Sangria-like concoction.
Not wild about wine? No worries. The tasting room sells local craft beer, too.
And since alcohol is allowed outside of the cafe and on the Hermitage grounds, you can also get your wine, beer or slushee to go—so long as you’re drinking it from a plastic cup—and set up your own picnic under the sunshine.
Have you ever visited Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville? If not, is it on your list?