Introduction to Every Leader
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
11th President of the United States, 1845-1849
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary

James K. Polk Home

James K. Polk Center Table
James K. Polk Center Table
James K. Polk Memorial Association
Columbia, Tennessee

James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, lived in this fine brick house in Columbia, one of the best examples of Federal style architecture in Tennessee, from 1819 until 1824 upon his marriage.  Nominated as the first “dark-horse” presidential candidate, his program of westward expansion helped him win the election.  During his single term of office, he led the nation through the Mexican War, pushing its boundaries to the Pacific Ocean.  He also settled a long-standing dispute with Great Britain about the boundary of Oregon Territory. 

James Polk was born in 1795 in North Carolina.  The family moved to the Columbia, Tennessee area in 1806.  His father Samuel Polk built a new house in Columbia 10 years later as a symbol of his success as a farmer. James lived there as a young man for several years.  Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1818 and read law in Nashville for a year although he still called his family's house home.  After passing the bar, Polk returned to Columbia to this house, opened his own practice, and quickly achieved success.  He rapidly rose through the ranks of government, serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1825 until his election as governor of Tennessee in 1839.  He was Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and was an unfailing supporter of Andrew Jackson.

Polk was the first “dark horse” presidential candidate.  Originally considered only as a possible nominee for vice president, Polk became the Democratic presidential candidate as the result of a deadlock among Martin Van Buren, Lewis Cass, and James Buchanan.  The virtually unknown Polk surprised the nation by winning the close election of 1844 with his popular position favoring the annexation of Texas and acquiring the Oregon territory from Britain.

During Polk's term of office, the nation acquired over 800,000 square miles of western territory. With the acquisition of this land, the continental United States reached approximately its present extent.  Although he had hoped to complete the annexation of Texas peaceably, Polk ultimately ended up seeking a congressional declaration of war in 1846.  At the end of the Mexican War in 1848, the United States gained most of what is now the southwestern United States, including Texas, New Mexico, and California.  Polk agreed to a negotiated northern boundary for Oregon, ending years of disputes with Great Britain.  Debates about organizing the new territories added fuel to the already bitter disputes over the extension of slavery, however, and helped split Polk’s Democratic Party into pro- and anti-slavery wings.

James K. Polk Home Dining Room
James K. Polk Home Dining Room
James K. Polk Memorial Association
Columbia, Tennessee

At 49 years of age, Polk was the youngest president inaugurated up to that time, but the strain of his campaign and of his presidency left him exhausted. True to his campaign pledge to serve only one term, Polk left office and returned to Tennessee in March 1849.  Polk died of cholera three months later, as thousands of Americans rushed west in search of California gold.

The Polk house in Columbia is a two story L-shaped brick building.  Accented by sidelights and a fine elliptical fanlight, the entrance is the focal point of the front elevation of the house.  The main block consists of a wide side hall and two parlors on the first floor and three bedrooms and a hall on the second floor.  The State of Tennessee and the James K. Polk Memorial Association of Nashville acquired the house in 1929.  In 1935, they reconstructed the detached kitchen on its original foundation.  The property also contains a period garden.  The James K. Polk Memorial Association administers the property for the State as a house museum and memorial.  It is the only surviving residence of the 11th president and still holds many of his possessions, including furniture and silver.

Plan your visit

The James K. Polk Home is located at 301 West 7th St., Columbia, TN, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The house is open April-October, Monday-Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and November-March, Monday-Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.  It is open year round, Sundays from 1:00pm to 5:00pm.  There is a charge for admission.  For more information visit the James K. Polk Home website or call 931-388-2354.

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