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Aug 31

A Presidential Plantation and a Steel Magnolia

andrew jacksonFirst our American History lesson!  If you were not educated in the US we don’t expect you to know who Andrew Jackson was or when he was President!  In fact, we figure a lot of people born and educated in the US probably don’t know either … even though he is on the $20 bill, known as the Double Sawbuck, because it was twice the value of a $10 bill!

We visited Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, which has been a museum since 1889 and receives a quarter of a million visitors a year.  This makes it one of the oldest and largest historic site museums in the United States and the fourth most visited Presidential Residence in the Country. 

Which are the other three?  Sorry, no prizes for the right answer!

Our visit didn’t start off well because the address printed on the Total Access brochure (which we put into our GPS) was incorrect and we found ourselves driving around in a residential area instead!    We think our GPS lady was as frustrated as we were until we checked another brochure and found the right address!

HermitageOur experience at The Hermitage was excellent! The tour started with a very informative video that took us through Andrew Jackson’s life including highlighting his success against the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, his election to the House of Representatives and then, by popular vote, as the 7th President of the United States in 1829.  His two-term Presidency was not without controversy.  We learned that in 1830 he signed the Indian Removal Act that resulted in the removal to Oklahoma of Native Americans on lands east of the Mississippi.  This forced journey became known as The Trail of Tears where thousands of Native Americans died along the way.  The land they vacated was good cotton growing land coveted by white settlers. This is a sad saga in America’s history.

Andrew Jackson governed in a time of upheaval and change and he was able to attract the support of the common man with his unconventional ideas.  He and his Cabinet helped shape the democratic form of government, yet on the flip side he was a slave-owning cotton farmer!  Over a period of 41 years, his plantation grew from a 425 acre farm to a 1,000 acre cotton plantation with the help of his slaves.

Question:  Do you know how/why the Democratic Party adopted the Jackass as the Party symbol?

The free audio tour was superb, leading us through the museum area, the plantation, gardens and the House, where we were greeted by people in period costumes.   Much of the furnishings of the home are original and here we learned more about Andrew Jackson’s personal life.  He and his wife, Rachel, married when he believed she was divorced from her first husband, only to find out later that this was not the case!  They remarried a few years later and Rachel remained the love of his life until her death just two months before he took office as President.  They were unable to have children and adopted a son from Rachel’s brother as well as two other children, one of them a Native American.

Do you know that:

Andrew Jackson was the target of the first Presidential assassination attempt?

He was the first President to be given a nickname-“Old Hickory”- due to his toughness and aggressive personality.

Loved or hated, Andrew Jackson made a lasting impact on the United States of America. His home is well worth a visit.


acklen-adelicia2Now for the
Steel Magnolia! Our last stop in Nashville was at Belmont Mansion, a fine example of an Italian villa, completed in 1853.  It was, however, the fascinating character of Belmont’s owner that made our tour so memorable!

Three-times married, Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham, was born in 1817 to a prominent Nashville family.  Her first husband, whom she married at age 22, was a wealthy businessman and plantation owner (and, we understand, slave trader) 28 years her senior.  After seven years of marriage (and four children, all of whom died before age 11) her husband died and left Adelicia a very rich woman, owning cotton plantations in Louisiana, undeveloped land in Texas, stocks, bonds and 750 slaves.

Adelicia and her second husband built Belmont as their summer home to escape the heat at her Louisiana plantations.  No expense was spared to create one of the most elaborate homes in the south, surrounded by beautiful gardens, conservatories, a lake and even a zoo which was opened to the public since no zoos existed at that time!  Her second husband died during the civil war leaving Adelicia to find a way to ship her cotton crop from Louisiana to England.  On the brink of bankruptcy, she showed her strength of character by negotiating with both the Union and Confederate authorities and her cotton crop was soon on its way to England!

At war’s end, Adelicia traveled to Europe, taking with her the four surviving children from her second marriage.  Retrieving the funds from the sale of her cotton, she continued to acquire a large art and sculpture collection, some of which can be seen today at Belmont. 

In 1867, Adelicia married her third husband and their wedding reception took place at Belmont, with about 2,000 guests in attendance!  This lady knew how to entertain!

Belmont

Belmont was sold a few months before Adelecia’s death and since then the building has been used for a women’s academy and other educational purposes.  Today the Mansion, situated on the grounds of Belmont College, is owned by the Belmont Mansion Association and the College. Restoration is ongoing and is funded from admission fees, membership and fundraising events.

As with most colleges, parking is limited, however, we were fortunate to find a spot right at the entrance to the Mansion.  The front door was locked but we rang the bell as instructed and were ushered in by a volunteer who gave the two of us a brief history of the mansion and a tour of the entry hall.  We then joined a tour in progress and visited the other parts of the Mansion. The group was small; the guides were well informed and obviously enjoyed sharing the history of the home as well as the life of Adelicia who was the epitome of a Steel Magnolia!

Despite the changes that have taken place at Belmont, much of the original Venetian glass decorates the windows, doors and transoms.  Mirrors, replacing original paintings, hang above marble mantels reflecting elaborate “gasoliers”. Rooms are decorated in the style of the day, and contain some original art and family possessions.

Our visits to both properties helped us better understand the life of the rich and famous at this period of America’s history, as well as the life of those who served them.

Pictures:

Hermitage  http://goo.gl/wBim5e

Belmont Mansion http://goo.gl/84Q0hp

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