A major preservation project is almost complete at the former home of President Andrew Jackson that is currently a public museum.
It’s been an exciting time at the Hermitage because the roof of the mansion was repainted to replicate the original color of a zinc roof Jackson installed in 1835. It went from a red color for years to a blue-gray color that depicts the authentic look the mansion’s roof was in the mid-1800s.
To get to this point, Tony Guzzi, Hermitage vice president of preservation and operations, spent about 10 years researching how to make the mansion’s roof look as close as possible to its original state. The roof was a major component to preserve the home’s integrity.
“It’s a $132,000 preservation project,” said Guzzi.
He said the Metropolitan-Nashville and Davidson County Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee appropriated most of the funds to the project.
And while the mansion had a major $1.1 million restoration in 2009 and 2010, the roof was recently repainted a red color. Guzzi’s goal in the interim was to research and figure out how best to do another repaint of the roof to best replicate what the house looked like originally.
Construction of the original home took place between 1819 and 1821, and the original roof was wood shingles. However, a chimney fire seriously damaged the roof and upper story in 1834.
“The roof caught fire from an ember that escaped the chimney,” said Guzzi. “The entire roof went up in flames, and there was significant damage to the second floor.”
Jackson then went to the current Greek Revival structure.
“After the fire, Jackson wanted it to be more fire resistant, and he had the roof replaced with zinc shingles,” said Guzzi.
Zinc takes on a blue-grey patina naturally, and that color is what Gazzi was determined to bring back to the current mansion’s roof at this time when it needed repainting.
In 1890, the roof had deteriorated. It was then replaced with a standing seam tin roof.
Guzzi explained at the time the tin roof was painted red.
“Red was an easy color to make and cheaper,” he said. “It was very common to use red on roofs.”
Eventually, the roof was replaced with a stainless-steel product and still painted red until recently. The last time it was painted was in 2010, and Guzzi has spent the time since to research how to get it back to at least the original color.
The roof expands to about 5,400 feet, so it’s a big job to repaint.
Repeat visitors might be surprised to see the roof a color other than red. Guzzi did deep research and found out many roofs in Europe are zinc. He found a specialty roofing company called Rheinzink, and it was able to share with him a replica color of authentic patina zinc. He went so far as to know for sure the original roof was zinc and found a receipt in Jackson’s bankbook where Jackson bought the original zinc roof for $330.
“I felt comfortable departing from the longtime red to what was recommended to look like zinc patina,” Guzzi said.
The roof painting started Aug. 19 and was recently completed. If someone has a tin or metal roof they’d like to say currently matches the roof on the Hermitage, all they have to do is go to a local Porter Paint store and ask for RAL 701 silver grey, which is what currently graces the Hermitage’s roof.
Guzzi said he gets excited when he pulls up to the historic mansion and sees the roof in the same color it was in its heyday. Its central portion is almost 200 years old.
Some other minor restoration projects up ahead include painting the entire exterior, except for the front, which is a sand paint and is not in need of a refresh; upgrading a lightning rod for the protection system; and soon replacing the boiler.
For a home that’s nearly two centuries old, Guzzi said it’s in magnificent shape.
“I think it’s in the best physical condition, both outside and in, as it has been in the last 20 years,” he said.