I was very surprised to see a local news report last week that The Hermitage has been in serious financial trouble over the past year. The economic recession, combined with the Middle Tennessee flooding of last May, not only cut into attendance but also destroyed the climate control system used to keep the house and its contents at the required temperature and humidity for preservation.
I’ve been acquainted with The Hermitage since first visiting while an undergraduate in the mid-1990s. Things have changed significantly since I worked as a docent there during the summer of 1995. (Alas, I don’t have a picture of me in full costume, which my wife would be thrilled to see and post on Facebook.) In 1995, Opryland was still open and generated a lot of tourist traffic. Also, The Hermitage staff has expanded the focus of the home and grounds from Jackson and his Donelson relatives to include the slave community. Larry McKee was heading up archaeological excavations on the grounds when I worked there, and that work has paid off in producing a more complete picture of life at The Hermitage.
The Hermitage staff is doing an excellent job of presenting the lives of the seventh president and those around him in all of their complexity. The home has proven resilient, having survived Andrew Jackson Junior’s financial ineptness, the Civil War, and the 1998 tornado. If you’re ever in the Nashville area, please make a visit and support the work there. If you give me enough notice, I would even be happy to join you–just don’t be disappointed if I’m not in costume.