February 25, 2015
About an hour southwest of Nashville lies the small town of Columbia, Tennessee. During a business trip several years ago I had a couple free hours and took a tour of the James Polk Ancestral Home and Museum ‐ it was definitely worth the trip.
James Polk was the 11th president of the United States, serving only one term from 1845-1849. The ancestral home and museum are not large (especially by presidential library standards these days), but the tour guides, videos, and displays are well organized and very informative. If you go on the weekdays you’ll probably even get your own personal tour guide because there are not big crowds here.
Honestly, I didn’t really know anything about this president prior to my visit, but was awed by what he managed to do in his short time in office. For example, one of his main agenda items was expansionism ‐ in other words, making the US bigger. During his tenure, Texas joined the US as the 28th state and President Polk negotiated the acquisition of the Oregon Territory from Britain. Following a war with Mexico, the territories of New Mexico and California were obtained too. Back in those days it was very prestigious to have a county named after you, so you’ll find quite a few Polk counties all over the country. It was also not uncommon to have cities be named after prominent people. Polk’s vice president was George Dallas, for whom Dallas, Texas was named after.
Not only did President Polk expand our country but he also had time to establish the Federal Treasury. This guy truly worked tirelessly, as did his wife Sarah. She was a highly educated woman, rare for the time, and became one of his closest advisors. The reason James Polk didn’t run for a second term in office was because he felt he had more important national matters to attend to than campaigning. After four years of going non-stop you can imagine he was ready for a rest. Unfortunately, he passed away from cholera only three months after leaving office ‐ the shortest retirement of any president.
It’s pretty unusual that one comes across such a gem of a museum. If you find yourself in central Tennessee, I would highly recommend this place as a stop.