Nestled on the corner of West 7th Street and North High Street, the only surviving residence of our nation’s 11th president, James K. Polk, stands awaiting to show its story to visitors from near and far.
Owned in part by the State of Tennessee and is partially funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation/Tennessee Historical Commission. The James K. Polk Memorial Association operates the site on a daily basis and is responsible for most of the funding for the site’s upkeep.
“We get a small stipend from the state, but the majority of our funding comes from membership, admission, sales from the gift shop and fundraisers like the Memorial Ball that is coming up in the fall,” said Executive Director Rachel Helvering, who came to the site in September after eight years at the Tennessee State Museum.
The Memorial Ball, which is typically held every other year, has not been held since 2018, but is set for September this year, and Helvering said it is vital to the success and progress of the nonprofit and the site.
“We’ve had a smaller budget through Covid, and we’ve just been maintaining what we’ve always done. We are excited to do more things and more work on all the historic buildings on the property,” she said. “We’re going to have more programs and get school kids coming back more often, and the ball is a huge step to get those projects started.”
Along with the ball, memberships provide much of the annual operating budget, and can be purchased for as low as $100 a year or up to $1,000 annually. Each different level of support includes special perks such as free admission, discounts and previews of new exhibits in the home.
“Our members are the basis of our success,” Helvering said. “They really are what keeps us going, and allow us to serve the community by bringing the history of James K. Polk to visitors from across the country.”
With the trending growth in Middle Tennessee and in Maury County, much can be lost when trying to find the next cool spot to eat or grab a drink, but Maury County’s rich history thrives in downtown Columbia, and the Polk Home is a driving force behind that success.
“I think it’s important to note that there are only a select number of presidential hometowns, and Columbia has an amazing history connected to the Polks,” Helvering said. “It’s really a perk to live nearby, but I think people across the country should be coming to Columbia to learn about James K. Polk.
“He is one of the most important presidents, and any time we can guide the public through that period in history we are excited to do it.”
Polk oversaw western expansion, including the Oregon territory, and was heralded as a president who stood by campaign promises. At age 49, he was the youngest president to be elected to that point, but after keeping his promise to serve only one term, he died of cholera three months after leaving office.
Helvering said teaching that history to adults and kids is something she is excited to be doing, along with several upgrades to the property. One of those events for homeschooled children is a field day set for May 20. Admission for students is $5, and will include historic games and activities, as well as a visit from members of the Quicksteps, the vintage base ball team in Spring Hill.
The annual Polk Academy returns as well in 2022, which is a week-long summer camp for 4th, 5th and 6th grade students, with dates in June and July.
“We’re so excited to have our school kids coming back out. Last week, we had two school groups and they’re starting to get back out, which is exciting,” Helvering said.
The home is open seven days a week, Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. For more information about the Polk Home or to become a member, visit jameskpolk.com