Pop quiz! What number president was James K. Polk?
Eleventh! What else do you know about James K. Polk?
Crickets. I can tell you he’s from Tennessee (by way of North Carolina). And then I can’t tell you anything else… Until now! I recently took a trip back to my home state of Tennessee, and I finally made it a priority to visit President Polk’s home in the charming town of Columbia, just an hour south of Nashville. Here is everything you need to plan your trip!
Know Before You Go
FREE parking is available in the parking lot across 7th Street, street parking in designated spaces on High Street, or at the Maury County Visitors Bureau. You really won’t have trouble finding parking in Columbia!
More here: The Ultimate List of Road Trip Tips
Admission and Hours
The James K. Polk Home and Museum are open year-round, except New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Reservations are not required, but if you have a group of 10 coming, please call to schedule your tour so you can all be together.
Walk-in visitors are welcome Sundays from 1:00pm-5:00pm; Monday-Saturday 9:00am-4:00pm, extending to 5:00pm from April-October.
Admission is $12 for adults 19-59; $10 for seniors 60 and over; $8 ages 6-18; children under 6 visit FREE.
Only interested in the Presidential Hall exhibits? You can purchase an exhibit-only ticket for $5 for adults and seniors, and $3 for ages 6-18.
Also helpful: 6 Solo Travel Experiences to Have
A Little Background on Polk
Born in North Carolina in 1795 (the year before Tennessee became a state!), James K. Polk was the United States of America’s 11th President, between 1845-1849. But he didn’t start his career in politics as president. In fact, he was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, United States House of Representatives, Speaker of the House, and governor of Tennessee.
Polk was possibly the most productive single-term president in U.S. history. He gained the territories that are now Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico (these were all just territories at the time). Plus, the states of Idaho, Wisconsin, and Texas were added during his term as well!
Also, did you know that Sarah Childress Polk is the one who suggested Hail to the Chief be played at his presidential inauguration and all his public appearances? It’s still played at presidential events to this day!
He and his wife, Sarah Childress Polk, never had any children. He died at age 53, just a few months after leaving office. He is buried on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nasvhille.
Keep reading: Nashville for History Lovers
Highlights of the Tour
I have to be honest with you, Dan was a fabulous tour guide, and he gave us one of the best house tours–and best presidential house tours–I’ve ever taken. And I’ve taken a LOT of house tours! Here are the highlights.
I’m not a “stuff person,” and in fact, we only have one full set of dishes ourselves (so, no Christmas-specific dishes, no “nice” dishes vs. “everyday” dishes). But if I could have a set of the Polks’ presidential dishes, I would take them! They were made in France, and the border is 18K gold. But what I loved the most was the flowers. Each plate has a hand-painted Tennessee wildflower on it!
The Upstairs Bedrooms
I like to see how people lived way back when, you know? There are so many things they used to use and ways they used to do things that we never think of now, and it fascinates me! For instance, why is the chimney like that? (See second photo below.)
Well, this isn’t a highlight so much a “low-light” that I think people need to know about. James and Sarah Polk had a house built in downtown Nashville called Polk Place. The former president only lived here about a month before he died, but Sarah lived here until she died, 42 years later in 1891.
Fun fact: Polk Place was neutral territory in the Union-held, Confederate city of Nashville. Both sides had such respect for her as their former First Lady that they were able to agree to let her live there in peace and security. She hosted generals from both sides in her home during the Union occupation.
In 1901, a developer bought the property and promised not to tear it down. In the dead of night, he did just that. Tore down Polk Place and built apartments there. Currently, there is a Sheraton on the site with a big spaceship on the top. It hurts my heart!
The Back Garden Behind the Visitor Center
We almost missed this! There is a beautiful, English-style garden behind the visitor center and museum, and it is well worth a few minutes to see and enjoy it!
Read next: What to Know Before You Visit Nashville
Anyone else like to read books before they visit a place? It’s not just me, right? Here are two books you might like, the first of which is short and sweet. The second is longer and more detailed, so choose your own adventure!
More coming: Your Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel in Nashville
Want more? Check out all my posts about Tennessee on my dedicated United States Page!
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