Weekly Obsession: Flip this house

Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 10:00pm

The acanthus is not native to Nashville.

The leafy, thorny plant grows primarily in the Mediterranean basin and in East Asia. Not a particularly beautiful plant, it has neither the glamour of the rose nor the stateliness of the mighty oak.

But the Greeks, their minds perhaps taxed from the important work of inventing democracy and what not, decided the acanthus made a fine addition to the capitals of their columns, particularly those of the Corinthian variety.

In the coming weeks, 96 acanthus-style adornments will be added to the columns at The Hermitage, completing a 14-month, $1.2 million restoration at the home of Andrew Jackson. The faux-acanthuses at Old Hickory’s house have had as much success surviving in Middle Tennessee as the actual plant would. The originals were removed from the front portico in 1968 and replaced by reproductions, which have not weathered well themselves — thus their replacement.

This is the final jewel in the crown of the latest restoration at the home of the seventh president, the most extensive restoration there since that ’68 refurb.

The bulk of the work began more than a year ago. The process required peeling back the wooden facade, replacing the bricks laid by Jackson himself with bricks made by an out-of-state company specializing in traditional building materials. (They’re hand-hewn bricks, painstakingly made to match the originals.) Older Nashvillians will remember that the ’68 restoration used dyed concrete bricks, which were sturdy enough but faded to a pink hue that a tough backwoods military man like Jackson would surely not have approved.

The estate-wide project used a mix of private donations and public grants to restore a 170-year-old slave cabin. Restoration has become a serious business, with staffers poring over old photos, designs and descriptions from the home’s heyday.

The six-dozen acanthuses coming soon may not seem like a lot, but rest assured, it’s what Jackson would have wanted. The research bears it out.


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