Presidential Sites: Replica of James K. Polk’s birthplace is in North Carolina

Published 9:19 am Thursday, February 24, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Betty Etchison West
For the Enterprise

The story of the home owned by President James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah, is a sad one. One that seems to occur too often to places which have historical value.
The Polks’ home, which was named, Polk Place, was destroyed by a wrecking ball in 1901. The former President and his wife were dead at that time. Luckily, Mrs. Polk’s niece was able to save many of the Polks’ possessions, and they are now displayed at the house, which was the home of James Polk’s parents in Columbia, Tenn.
James Knox Polk was born at Pineville, N.C. in 1795. The house in which he was born is no longer there, but a replica of the house has been built. It is believed to be an exact copy of the original two-story log Polk Home. That house, one-half mile south of Pineville, is open to the public. Special occasions are celebrated at that Polk House, like the birthday of James K. Polk in November when people in period costumes demonstrate 18th Century cooking, weaving, spinning, etc. Call 702-889-7145 for information about the birthplace of the 11th President of the United States and about special celebrations.
When James K. Polk was 11, his parents decided to move to Tennessee. James’ grandfather gave his son, Samuel Polk, who was James Knox Polk’s father, land near the Duck River where the family first lived. After living there about 10 years, Samuel Polk and his wife decided to move to Columbia, Tenn. James’ father built a house in Columbia, which was/is known as the Polk Ancestral Home. James K. Polk lived with his parents in that house until he left to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduating, James went back to Tennessee. He lived with his parents in Columbia a short time before moving to Nashville, Tenn., where he married Sarah Childress, who had attended Salem Academy in Winston-Salem, NC.
The James K Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia is the only house in which President James K. Polk ever lived that is now standing except the White House in Washington. The book, “Cabins, Cottages, and Mansions” by the Benbows, describes the house as: “a two-story brick structure of the Federal style popular in Tennessee in 1816. The modest home, like others of its time and location is built of hand-made brick and has a large stair hall, a parlor and dining room downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. The house’s large windows and high ceilings made the house suitable for summer weather. Winter were relatively mild, but each major room is equipped with a fireplace for heat.”
The house itself is interesting, but the items that had belonged to Sarah and James Polk which Sarah Polk’s niece was able to save and move from Polk Place certainly makes it more interesting. Among those items: James Polk’s law books; Sarah’s portable writing desk, which she used when she served as a Secretary for the President; some of Sarah Polk’s clothes; including a Parisian-made black cape; and a picture of Sarah in her mourning garb. Actually 90% of the furnishings in the Polk Ancestral Home were those saved by the niece which belonged to James and Sarah Polk.
Columbia, Tenn. is 46 miles from Nashville. Visitors interested in presidential history should include a visit to the Polk Ancestral Home. The telephone number to call for information and when tours are given is 931-505-8019.
The fact that Polk Place in no longer there, doesn’t not keep it from being important historically. James and Sarah Polk bought the house in Nashville, while he was President of the United States. They moved there after he had served one term as President, which is all he planned to serve when he was elected. While Polk was President, both he and his wife worked, worked and worked. He did not believe that the President should have time for leisure activities. When he completed his term in office and returned to Tennessee, Polk was completely worn out from working 12 hours a day every day. James Knox Polk, former President, died three months after he returned to Polk Place. Sarah was devastated. She put on black mourning clothes, and, on the few occasions when she was seen away from her home, she was usually wearing those black mourning clothes. During the Civil War, Sarah Polk entertained Confederate and Union soldiers at Polk Place. Her property was considered neutral territory so it was never harmed in any way during the war. Sarah Childress Polk lived 42 years after the death of her husband.
James K. Polk is not one of the better known Presidents, but much was accomplished during his administration. The question about the northern border of the United States was settled during Polk’s administration. The 49th parallel was established as the northern border and that gave the United States Washington and Oregon. As the result of the Mexican War which was fought during the Polk’s years in the White House, 1.2 million square miles where added to the United States which included the territory from Mexico to California. The United States agreed to pay $15 million dollars to Mexico for that territory as part of that agreement.
James K. Polk is said to be the only President who kept all of his campaign promises. That within itself sets him apart from other presidents.
North Carolina born, James K. Polk and his wife Sarah Childress Polk, who was born in Tennessee, are buried on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville. Polk is the only President to be buried on the grounds of a state capitol. The man who served in the Tennessee State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, where he became Speaker of the House, and then as the Governor of Tennessee before becoming President of the United States, is now laid to rest where he began climbing the political ladder.
James K. Polk is the only man to date who served as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to become President. It was Gerald Ford’s ambition to become Speaker of the House, but he became President of the United States before he reached that goal.