…named by Andrew Jackson, 7th president of the United States, a man whose life did not manifest much affinity for the usual pursuits of a hermit. His original name for the house was “rural retreat,” so perhaps he always yearned for a little peace and quiet. The site is now not at all rural — Nashville’s growth has encompassed the area with urban and suburban development.
I visited The Hermitage with a group of faculty and staff from a variety of disciplines within the University. We discussed how we might involve our students in the ongoing study, preservation, and management of the site — internships, on-site classes, collaborations.
From an ecological perspective, sites like this provide “green” spaces within the more heavily urbanized surroundings. These areas can, depending on how they are managed, provide habitat for native species, “windows” of natural space in an otherwise human-dominated landscape. Just as important, they provide places where people can connect to the rest of the community of life, something that is not always possible in urban areas, particularly if those areas have not been planned with green spaces in mind. But there is a tension here: places that are preserved for historical reasons, like the Hermitage, are sometimes not open to the general public without a fee. So, unlike greenways, urban parks, and state natural areas, historical preservation sites are often off limits to many people. A management challenge is therefore how to maximize access while protecting the historical value of the site.