The historic home of President Andrew Jackson was not immune to the tribulations and challenges of the pandemic with a multi-million dollar loss in revenue from a three-month closure in 2020, but is rebounding in a big way and is now selling out popular events.
As with all venues and tourist destinations, The Hermitage had to pivot the past year-plus to navigate the pandemic and keep interest in the mansion alive. The Hermitage closed its doors March 17, 2020 and reopened June 11, 2020. They followed through with restrictions.
Weathering the Storm
“We opened with a Grounds Pass as part of the Nashville Mayor’s Four-Phase Reopening Plan last summer,” explained Ann Dee Jones, Vice President of Marketing and Communications. “During that almost three-month closure, we lost $3 million in revenue from ticket sales, so a huge part of our efforts were focused on our Weathering the Storm campaign, which was created to ensure the present and future of this presidential home and museum was intact.
Restrictions for nearly a year at this tourist site in the heart of Hermitage were related to mask mandates and social distancing. They were limited on the number of people they could have in the mansion at one time, as well as at their after-hour programs and events, including weddings.
Those restrictions have now been lifted, though the staff is still required to wear masks while indoors for their safety and the safety of their visitors.
“Given where we were a little more than a year ago, to see lines at the ticket office and sold-out tours most of the days we are open is truly a remarkable sign,” said Howard J. Kittel, president and CEO of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. “Student groups have not yet come back in full force, but we are seeing a steady pick-up of tour groups. One of my ways to gauge attendance is to look at our parking lot, and I have to say, seeing it full again leaves me optimistic about the recovery of not just our site but of Nashville as a whole.”
The heart of the pivot during the closure was to provide many virtual offerings as a way to keep in touch with their followers and to keep interest in their site, Jones said.
“We offered virtual visits of the site, including the mansion, museum, grounds and our tours; Q&As with members of our executive staff; and the popular Jackson’s Library Card, our monthly book club that is still ongoing,” Jones said.
Staying focused on preservation
Additionally, in the last year-plus, the site has been proactive and sanguine. Preservation did not halt, even while they were closed and faced with financial challenges. They focused on a wallpaper repair on the second floor of the mansion and completion of the long awaited and much needed cleaning and repair on the tomb where Rachel and Andrew Jackson are laid to rest.
At the tomb, there was major cleaning of the columns, floors, steps and more, with the use of low-pressure steam, laser ablation and chemical poultices. In addition, the copper roof of the tomb was coated with a sealant to prevent copper salts from staining the stone of the tomb.
Also, during this unprecedented time, The Hermitage partnered with Natchez Hills Winery on an onsite tasting room. Now, every Hermitage ticket includes a discounted wine tasting. Wine flights, wine by the glass and bottle, wine slushes and even local craft beer are also available. This partnership hopes to offer something additional to visitors 21 and older, with the hope they will cultivate a greater appreciation of the growing Tennessee wine region.
Telling stories through
The core tenets of the Andrew Jackson Foundation’s mission are to preserve, educate and inspire.
“Every time we are able to tell the story of this place, we are doing our part,” said Jones. “Our staff and every donor have been tantamount to the way we have overcome the challenges brought on by COVID-19.”
Recent offerings at the mansion, such as “Their Footsteps” tour, quickly sold out in this reemergence from the pandemic.
“We believe these specialty tours sell out because people are genuinely interested in learning more about Jackson, his life and career, his family and all that happened on The Hermitage property when they lived here,” Jones said. “Our In Their Footsteps Tour highlighted the lives of the enslaved men, women and children who worked within the mansion during the life of Jackson and shares their stories beyond his death and emancipation. We are able to offer this tour because of the diligent research and work of our curatorial team. These are important stories to tell, and we are honored to be able to now tell them.”
Their VIP tours are a hot ticket and need to be bought as quickly as possible. These after-hour tours are led by lantern through the grounds and into the mansion and recount stories of the eerie encounters that both the staff and visitors have experienced while on the property. There are spooky stories about the Battle of New Orleans and the infamous encounter Jackson had with the Bell Witch.
Tickets are selling fast for the History Uncorked event Sept. 16 as well as Sip of History scheduled for Sept. 25. A favorite event, Ghost Tours is upcoming. They anticipate a sell out this year as well and dates will be announced soon. The Hermitage Enslaved: A Wagon Tour has commenced.
“This takes visitors beyond The Hermitage mansion into the fields where the majority of the enslaved men, women and children worked and lived under the ownership of Andrew Jackson,” explained Jones. “The driver conveys the story of how the cash crop of cotton and the forced labor needed to produce it were vital to the economy of the Jackson family. Those on the tour have the opportunity to view the archaeological sites associated with slavery, cotton and farming on the Hermitage grounds, including the cotton gin site and the foundations of four of the field quarter houses.”
And so, The Hermitage has weathered yet another storm and fingers are crossed this strong comeback will continue as people navigate another resurge of COVID. Tourists are the bread and butter of the mansion.
“While we do see many locals visit our site, the majority of our visitors are not from the Middle Tennessee area,” Jones said. “This was true pre-pandemic and has remained the case. The Hermitage is one of Nashville’s top attractions; those visiting the city want to see something unique…and what is more unique than a presidential home?”