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Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: The Hermitage Hotel (1910), Nashville, Tennessee*

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

When the Hermitage opened in 1910, it advertised its rooms as "fireproof, noise proof and dustproof, $2.00 and up". It was designed by the Tennessee-born architect J.E.R. Carpenter and named for President Andrew Jackson's estate, "The Hermitage". J.E.R. Carpenter was one of the most highly-regarded architects in the U.S. who specialized in the design of upper-class apartment buildings in New York City. He won Gold Medals from the American Institute of Architects in 1916 and 1928. Carpenter was educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Commissioned by 250 Nashvillians in 1908, the Hotel Hermitage provided hot and cold circulating water which was distilled to avoid typhoid fever. Each guestroom had a private bath, telephone, electric fan and a device which indicated the arrival of mail. The Hermitage was a symbol of Nashville's emergence as a major Southern city. As Nashville's first million-dollar hotel, no expense was spared in its furnishings: sienna marble in the entrance; wall panels of Russian walnut; a painted glass ceiling in the vaulted lobby; Persian rugs and massive overstuffed furniture. Downstairs, adjoining the Oak Bar, was the Grille Room (now the Capitol Grille) which was built by German craftsmen and a design.

The Hermitage has enjoyed a long relationship with the music industry as Nashville became known as Music City and home of the historic Grand Ole Opry. Nashville's first million-selling record, "New Year" was composed by the hotel's band leader, Francis Craig in 1947, and helped the major recording companies to locate studios in Nashville. The hotel was the headquarters for the suffrage movement in 1920 as the state of Tennessee cast the deciding ballot in passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The Hermitage was also the home for eight years of legendary pool player Minnesota "Fats" where the hotel management bought a $3200 Steepleton billiards table located on the mezzanine above the lobby.

One of the longest-serving general managers of the Hermitage was Howard E. Baughman who was highly energetic and able. He managed the hotel from 1929 to 1946 and was remembered by W.D. Brown who ran the hotel barbershop for forty-seven years:

He was really a hotel man. He was always busy. I would open shop at eight o'clock. At 8:05 every morning he would walk in my door. He had already started at the top and inspected everything hiking all the way down to the basement. There were always a lot of bellboys around in those days. If he started talking to someone in the lobby, he might motion to one of the boys. The bellboy knew what to do. He went to the desk and got the man's name and slipped it to Mr. Baughman, who always liked to call a guest by his name. He was as straight as he could be. He would do anything for a guest. If the hotel was full and a regular guest came in he would take him to his apartment. Baughman had an apartment on the sixth floor.

For many years, the Hermitage was the center of Nashville's social and political life hosting everything from formal functions in its grand ballroom to pep rallies for Vanderbilt University's football team. The Meyer Hotel Company leased the hotel from 1913 to 1956. In 1956, the Hermitage was sold to the Alsonett Hotels Company who, after years of difficulty and deterioration finally shut it down in 1979. The Brock Hotel Corporation, the nation's largest independent operator of Holiday Inns, acquired the hotel and, after an extensive renovation reopened it in 1981. But Brock was not successful and in 2000 sold the Hermitage to Historic Hotels of Nashville whose stated business goal was to gain the AAA Five Diamond rating. During a multi-year $17 million renovation and restoration project, architect Ron Gobbell used historic photographs as a guide for the faithful and interpretive restoration, with interior design work by ForrestPerkins LLC.

In the ballroom, where the burled walnut paneling had dulled thanks to years of deterioration and grime, crews worked tirelessly to remove the dirt and old varnish by hand. Once the wood had been stripped, they hand-applied three new coats of varnish to restore the paneling's lustrous gleam. Throughout the various renovations, there's one part of the hotel that has remained virtually untouched: the green and black Art Deco-style men's room in the basement. Originally white tiled, it was remodeled in the WWII era. After rebuilding its shoeshine stand, the bathroom has become a landmark in its own right, even winning the title of "America's Best Restroom" in an online contest.

The Hermitage Hotel is one of the great hotels in the United States for many reasons, not the least of which are:

1. The owners recently bought a 245-acre farm where the property's staff will help raise beef that will be served in the hotel's Capital Grille. The Double H Farm, led by hotel Managing Director Greg Sligh is expected to yield fresh produce and corn that will be turned into Hermitage Hotel-brand grits. Hotel staff has helped tend a vegetable garden at a nearly farm since 2008.

2. Controller of the Hermitage Hotel is Tom Vickstrom who is also a talented and impassioned hotel historian. His indefatigable research has resulted in a series of newsletters, "Reflections from the Past" which is written for the ever-growing circle of friends and associates who enjoy history and have a special sentimental connection with the Hermitage Hotel. The newsletters are chock-full of vintage photographs; stories about Hermitage guests, famous and infamous; family recollections; great memories; old menus; nostalgic wedding pictures; former employees; and Hermitage Hotel memorabilia.

*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)

Return to The Hermitage Hotel


About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley_Turkel_3.jpgStanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."


Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting

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