It might surprise you to know that our country’s 11th President, who served from 1845-1849, consistently ranks as being in the top dozen of our most effective Presidents. And yet for some reason, despite the song by They Might Be Giants in his honor, he is typically a forgotten President. Having only served one term, he was so exhausted by the hard work that he had accomplished, achieving nearly every goal he set out to, that he retired to his new home in Nashville and passed away just three months after leaving office.
Polk was committed to the expansion of the country and secured the massive Oregon Territory after our victory in the Mexican-American War. His other successes included the establishment of the Independent Treasury System, the reduction of tariffs, the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian, and the issuance of the first postage stamp. He was also the only President to have a mullet.
Here are the sites that I have visited that played a crucial role in the life of James K. Polk:
Saturday, July 25, 2009 – James K. Polk Birthplace – In the tiny town of Pineville, North Carolina, located in Mecklinburg County just south of Charlotte near the South Carolina border. On a large plantation, James K. Polk was born in a log cabin in 1795.
Entrance to the Visitors Center, obviously
State Historical Marker also found at the entrance
The State Historic Site was established on a portion of the land in 1904 and a pyramid was constructed on the site where he was assumed to have been born. The pyramid itself has changed locations over the years. Currently a period log cabin representing Polk’s birth home stands on the original site of the pyramid – which is now located closer to the access road leading to the visitor center.
The visitor center includes a small museum of Polk displays, which if not impressive, is certainly well-intentioned. A film and tour of the cabin is offered but since I was there with Mom, Bob, Ashleigh, and Briana, as we were making our way toward Myrtle Beach, we declined both – opting instead to just take some photos of the landmarks.
The museum and visitor center
A representative snapshot of the rather unimpressive displays inside the museum
The museum docent confessed that they really have no idea where the cabin home owned by James K. Polk’s parents is actually located on the vast 150-acre plantation – which later grew to 450 acres by the time they sold it when James was eleven years old, but it is now assumed that it was actually located closer to where the road once was. However, she did say that they were in the early stages of an archaeological dig that might bring us closer to finding the presumed actual spot.
Cabin from the period of Polk’s birth, sitting where the pyramid monument first stood
Current location of the pyramid monument
Inscription on the monument
Friday, July 8, 2011 – Boyhood homes of James K. Polk in Columbia, Tennessee – In 1806, the Polk family re-located to Columbia, Tennessee. The family’s first home, which was built by his father Samuel, no longer stands – but a historical plaque marks the location.
On the site of Polk’s boyhood home
About ten years later, Polk’s father Samuel built another house that was located several miles from the first spot. The future President was 21 years old at the time, but it remained his permanent residence up until he assumed his role as President of the United States in 1845. This is the only house in which Polk lived that still stands today.
Jamie and I went on the guided tour of the house, which began with video presentation about Polk’s life and Presidency and included a small museum of Polk artifacts. In addition, there are more than 1000 Polk-owned items adorning the house. There is also a house next door in which two of Polk’s sisters lived, but we didn’t visit these.
Historical sign in front of the only standing home – besides the White House – where Polk lived
In front of the former Polk residence in Columbia, Tennessee
Displays in the museum area
The Bible on which Polk was sworn in – and then kissed following the Oath of Office
Portraits of Polk painted as he entered and exited the White House. He perhaps aged more than any other U.S. President in four years.
Chair in which Polk would frequently relax
An original Polk overcoat
About midway between the two Polk house locations in Columbia is the Greenwood Cemetery. Buried here are the parents of James K. Polk, Samuel and Jane. Four of Polk’s five siblings were also buried here. Although the marker inscriptions were very difficult to read, I was able to finally determine which graves belonged to Polk’s parents.
Graves of James K. Polk’s parents: Jane on the left, Samuel on the right
Friday, July 8, 2011 – Site of Polk Place, James K. Polk’s final home – After Polk retired from the Presidency, he commissioned a house to be built just a few blocks from the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville. Sadly, he only lived 53 days after moving in, and he passed away in the house. His wife Sarah continued to live in the house for 41 years until she passed away in 1891. For the duration of her residence, the President and his grave were located on the grounds of theproperty. The State of Tennessee declined to purchase the house form the Polk heirs, and it was privately sold and demolished in 1901.
Vintage photo of Polk Place, with Polk’s grave sitting on the grounds
Location of Polk Place
Friday, July 8, 2011 / Tuesday, September 9, 2014 / Friday, September 25, 2015 – Grave of James K. Polk – After Polk Place had been demolished, the grave and monument of the former President were moved to the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol. After touring the State Capitol building with Jamie, we took a walk around the grounds and naturally came upon this Presidential grave, under which is buried James K. and Sarah Polk.
The grave of James K. Polk, on the Tennessee State Capitol grounds in Nashville
Inscription on the grave for Polk’s wife Sarah Childress Polk
Me and James P.
I made a quick stop at the Tennessee State Capitol on September 9, 2014, with my girlfriend Carolyn and my friend Bob, and by default paid my second visit to President Polk’s grave.
Visiting James K. Polk in 2014
During a Nashville trip on Friday, September 25, I swung by the State Capitol with my friend Dean so that he could see Polk’s grave for the first time. Rain didn’t deter me from getting one more picture with him.
Stopping by again in 2015
Continue to the next President…
Return to Saturday 2009 in North Carolina…
Return to Friday 2011 in Tennessee…
Return to Tuesday 2014 in Tennessee…
Return to Friday 2015 in Tennessee…