by Taylor Speer-Sims
Join old house-obsessed, Southern transplant Taylor Speer-Sims as she bounces around the heart of Dixie scoping out the biggest & most beautiful Great Southern Estates!
Welcome to the kick-off of my new column, which will take you on a whirlwind tour through some of my favorite big, old houses down here in the South! Being originally from the North, southern houses seem to grasp my romantic imagination perhaps a little bit more than their northern counterparts. Is there, in fact, a type of romanticism surrounding the ideal image of the columned, two-story home set on a hill overlooking acres and acres of farmland? I say: absolutely!
For my first article, I am going to introduce you to The Hermitage, built c. 1835-36. It was formerly the home of President Andrew Jackson, in Hermitage, Tennessee. I work here one day each week, so I get to go behind-the-scenes of the home of one of the most famous Presidents in American history! Interestingly, it was the second house in the Nation to be set-aside as a house museum, after George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. Unbelievable, no?
The beautiful parlor. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Just as the ideal southern home should be, The Hermitage is a two-story columned house that was built on a hill. The hill is just high enough to give it a grand appearance, but not so high as to seem arrogant. This house was built to be a home. Andrew Jackson built it for the love of his life, Rachel. When you visit, you will notice that you will turn onto Rachel Lane, which was named after the gentlelady (the female term of gentleman.) Today, visitors sadly won’t see the house that Rachel lived in, because she, unfortunately, died before the completion of this columned masterpiece. Fortunately, though, her spirit lived on for Andrew, who sat outside in Rachel’s garden most of the time. He also hung Rachel’s portrait on the opposing wall of his bed so that he could look at her whenever he awoke. Such a romantic!
I could tell you about the numerous dignitaries who have visited The Hermitage over the years, but what I think is so memorable about this house is that most of the furnishings belonged there originally! Almost 90% of the furnishings belonged to one family member or another. The four-poster beds are so dreamy that it makes you sigh just imagining jumping into the down mattresses. (You’d really have to jump, or use a ladder, because they are very high off the ground!)
The “floating staircase” and hallway wallpaper. Photo by Lori-Doll.
Most visitors that I have met seem to like the wallpaper in the hall, which is a floor-to-ceiling Greco-Roman scene. The paper was brought over from France in 1837 (ooh la la!). Another grand showpiece in the hallway is the “floating” staircase. It looks like it is just floating in the air against the wall. The wallpaper continues up the stairs into the upstairs hall. It was not upstairs originally, but was later added by the museum staff to match the hall below. So, it is as if the staircase is floating in an historical scene all by itself! Check out photographer Sheri O’Neal’s beautiful photos for some great shots of the staircase and elsewhere throughout the house.
The dining room. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
What a mantel! Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
My favorite room in the mansion is the dining room which was, I think, most important to the family. I do not think that the family hung around the kitchen, like people do today, because the kitchen was in another building completely. The family ate together in the dining room. The blue and gold combination on the walls in this room mimics the dining chair set. To me, this is such a happy color combination. At first, I assumed the colors were not historically accurate and must have belonged to an earlier time, but they are actually original to the house! Interestingly, though I used to dislike blue, this shade is now one of my favorite colors. I think the romance of the manse is rubbing off on me.
Beautiful, bright blue! Photo by Adam Sommer.
There is much more to The Hermitage than this. Why not come and visit?
The back of The Hermitage. Photo by Rennett Stowe.
AUTHOR TAYLOR SPEER-SIMS
Taylor grew up on a small farm in Milan, Michigan to working-class parents. Both her grandparents lived in old houses, and she loved to spend the night and dream of living there in the glory days of the past. Taylor’s love of old houses and grand estates is the perfect background for her company, Countess Estates Management Services, where she works with busy homeowners of historic properties to help them enjoy their home and leave the worry and mundane to her and her expertise. Taylor is very excited to be working on a column on Southern Regional Homes for CIRCA!