James Knox Polk 11th President, 1845-1849

Birthplace, Pineville, North Carolina
Born in 1795 on the 250-acre farm worked by his parents, Jane and Samuel, James Knox Polk spent most of his childhood among the gently rolling hills of Mecklenburg County. A memorial to our nation’s 11th president is located on part of these lands. The log buildings and their furnishings are not original to the Polk homestead but are period pieces that date from the early 1800s.

When James was 11, the family sold the homestead and moved west to join James’s grandfather in Tennessee. Young James attended academies there, then returned to North Carolina to become an honor student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduating in 1818, he traveled back to Tennessee, studied law, and established a practice. In 1824 Polk married Sarah Childress, whose gracious manner and devoted companionship helped further his political career.

Birthplace Monument, Pineville, North Carolina
On September 26, 1904, the Mecklenburg chapter of the DAR unveiled the first monument in North Carolina to honor James K. Polk, eleventh President of the United States, born in Mecklenburg County on November 2, 1795. The newspaper reported that a crowd of four hundred “enthusiastic citizens” listened to two local historians, J.B. Alexander and Captain W.E. Ardrey, give speeches on the importance of the occasion and Polk’s presidency.

The area where the monument had been erected was still active farmland. By the time the State of North Carolina purchased the land in 1964 to create a state historic site, the spot had been neglected for years. With the permission of the Mecklenburg chapter, the state removed the monument from its original location so the present reconstructed cabins could be built. On December 6, 1968, the Polk Monument was rededicated along with the present-day visitor center.

Ancestral Home, Columbia, Tennessee
The James K. Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia, Tennessee is the only surviving residence of the eleventh U.S. President (excluding the White House). Samuel Polk, a prosperous farmer and surveyor, built the Federal-style brick house in 1816 while his oldest son James was attending the University of North Carolina. When the future President graduated in 1818, he returned to Tennessee and stayed with his parents until his marriage to Sarah Childress in 1824. While living in his family’s Columbia home, James practiced law and began his political career by successfully running for the State Legislature. Today, the Home displays original items from James K. Polk’s years in Tennessee and Washington, D.C. including furniture, paintings, and White House china.

In addition to touring the main home, guests may visit the adjacent c.1820 sisters’ house where two of the President’s married sisters lived at different times. The sisters’ house offers a 12-minute orientation video, a museum room, temporary exhibits, and a shop. The museum features some of the most unique and significant artifacts from the site’s collections including daguerreotypes of President and Mrs. Polk, White House gifts and mementos, campaign memorabilia from the Election of 1844, and Sarah Polk’s Inaugural fan with miniature portraits of the first eleven Presidents.

The Polk Home’s detached kitchen building was reconstructed in 1946 on the original foundation. Visitors to the kitchen see period cooking implements and household accessories. Demonstrations of early 19th century crafts and chores are presented here occasionally.

Although James K. Polk’s final residence – a mansion in downtown Nashville – was torn down in 1900, a cast iron fountain from the property has been preserved and is displayed in the Polk Home’s courtyard. The site’s landscaped grounds feature a formal boxwood garden, a white azalea garden, and a wildflower garden.

Gravesite, State Capital Grounds, Nashville, Tennessee
True to his word, Polk announced his intention to retire at the end of his single term, although he could easily have been nominated for a second term. He confided in his diary that he felt “exceedingly relieved” to be free from public duty. Unfortunately he was able to enjoy less than three months of retirement, the least of any former president. After handing over the reins of government to his successor, Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate whom he had always suspected of planning to use his service in the Mexican War to gain political office, Polk embarked on an extensive tour of the southern states. His trip took him from the Atlantic seaboard, west along the Gulf states, and up the Mississippi to Tennessee. Everywhere he traveled the crowds were large and festive, and he felt overjoyed with the proclamations of affection and thanks. At the end of the trip, he moved into his recently purchased estate in Nashville-it was the home of his old law mentor Senator Felix Grundy, which the former president named “Polk Place.” He spent his final weeks there remodeling the estate and sorting through his presidential papers.

Seriously ill during the last days of his tour, possibly from cholera that had broken out in New Orleans while he was there, Polk cut short his trip because of fatigue and bouts of diarrhea. At first he thought that it was just more of the same symptoms that had often plagued him throughout his life, but his weakness grew progressively worse and he died on June 15, 1849. He left most of his estate to his wife, with the request that she free their slaves upon her death. In 1893, his body was transferred from the Polk cemetery to a tomb at the state capitol grounds in Nashville.