Columbia Daily Herald: Polk Home might qualify as national treasure

Posted on April 19, 2015

The James K. Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia is nationally significant and could meet the criteria for affiliation with the National Park system, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told The Daily Herald on Saturday.

The National Park Service manages national parks, monuments and some other historical properties, and its recognition of the Polk Home would be the culmination of local efforts to preserve the 11th president’s home, Alexander said. The park service last week completed a reconnaissance survey on the Polk Home, located at 301 W. 7th St. in downtown Columbia.

“Tennessee is full of history, and the presidency of James K. Polk is one of our state’s great contributions to our nation’s history,” Alexander said. “This survey proves that the efforts by Columbia’s dedicated residents are making progress, and is an important step in the process toward preserving President Polk’s home and belongings and elevating it to the national treasure it deserves to be.”

Polk Home director John Holtzapple said a collaboration with the National Park Service would not necessarily put it under the National Park Service’s management. The home’s artifacts are owned by a non-profit organization, which operates the property, and the home itself is owned by the state of Tennessee.

“The collaboration with the National Park Service would be a way down the road,” Holtzapple said, “but we’re excited about the possibility of recognition from the federal government, possibly of some funding and Sen. Alexander’s efforts.

“Right now, the home is funded 89 percent by earned income from visitors and the local community,” he added. “The state of Tennessee provides the other 11 percent. We’re asked all the time if we’re funded by the federal government, since we honor a U.S. president, and the answer is, ‘No we are not.’ Our funding is a unique collaboration between our nonprofit group and the state.”

The Polk Home is the only surviving residence of the former Columbia attorney, who worked in Maury County after law school, was later elected governor of Tennessee and became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was president 1845-1849. He died June 15, 1849 at age 54, serving one four-year term as president.

As president, Polk was most notably remembered for acquiring 800,000 square

miles of territory during his administration and extending the border west to the Pacific Ocean. Today, it makes up California and much of the American Southwest. Polk’s last act as president was to sign the bill that created the Department of the Interior, the agency that includes the National Park Service.

His Tennessee home is managed by dedicated members of the James K. Polk Memorial Association and contains more than 1,300 artifacts and original items from the president’s years in the state and Washington, including furniture, White House artifacts, and political memorabilia.

In 2013, Alexander sent a letter to the director of the National Park Service requesting that the organization conduct a reconnaissance survey of the Polk Home to determine its significance and sustainability as a National Park Service site. This action, combined with the dedicated efforts by the members of the James K. Polk Memorial Association to promote and preserve the history of James K. Polk, have allowed the Polk Home to remain open to Tennesseans and visitors across the country.

The reconnaissance survey is the first step in the process that is required to begin the process to consider including the Polk Home in the National Park System.

“I see it as a federal endorsement of what the Columbia community and the state already have accomplished,” Holtzapple said.