Andrew Johnson National Historic Site | TAILOR SHOP

The Memorial Building encloses Andrew Johnson's tailor shop

The Memorial Building encloses Andrew Johnson’s tailor shop

101 North College Street

Andrew Johnson first came to Greeneville, Tennessee, in 1826 at the age of seventeen when he, his mother, and his stepfather stopped to rest on their way to meet his brother, William, in the Sequatchie Valley (Tennessee). Nearly penniless at the time, Andrew earned some money by making a suit for the man at whose house his family was staying. The man suggested he remain in Greeneville because the town’s current tailor was getting old, but since the man was not yet ready to retire, after a brief stay the Johnsons moved on and eventually settled in Rutledge, a town forty miles south of Greeneville. Johnson was able to rent a shop and set up a tailor business there.

During his brief stay in Greeneville, Andrew met Eliza McCardle when she helped his family find a place to stay. He fell in love with her, but had to move on to find work. As fortune would have it, six months after moving to Rutledge, the Greeneville tailor retired and Andrew immediately moved back, arriving for a second time in March 1827. He married seventeen-year-old Eliza two months later, and the couple moved into a rented two-room house on Main Street. The front room was used as his tailor shop, while the back room is where the couple lived. Their first two children, Martha and Charles, where born there.

In 1831, after three years of running a successful tailor business, Johnson had the money to purchase a small house and an extra lot for his tailor shop at the corner of Water and Main Cross streets (Depot and College streets today). Called the Early Johnson Home by the National Park Service, this would be his home for the next twenty years.

Johnson then moved his tailor shop on Main Street—the physical building—to the lot across from his new house. However, it is unclear as to the origin of the building. Had he built it himself? Was it the house that he and Eliza rented when they first got married? Or was this another building on Main Street that he purchased? There is nothing at the park that addresses this issue.

Johnson soon took an interest in politics, and his tailor shop became the place where the men of Greeneville came to hang out and discuss the current issues. When he held his first public office—town alderman—at the age of 21, the shop served as his meeting place. Johnson remained active in the tailor business for his first fourteen years in Greeneville, but once he got into national politics in 1843 by winning a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives, he either hired tailors to run the shop for him or rented it outright to tailors who wanted to operate their own business.

Andrew Johnson's tailor shop

Andrew Johnson’s tailor shop

Johnson eventually sold the shop, but after his death his daughters, Martha and Mary, recognized its historical significance and were able to buy it back in 1884. After that, the shop remained in the Johnson family until 1921, at which time Andrew Patterson, Johnson’s grandson, sold it to the state of Tennessee. To preserve the wooden structure, the state had the shop enclosed within a brick building known as the Memorial Building. The state retained ownership until giving the property to the National Park Service in 1941 for the new Andrew Johnson National Monument (the designation was changed to National Historic Site in 1964).

The Memorial Building is located right next to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Visitor Center. It is open 9 AM to 4 PM daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Park guests are welcome to come in and take a look around on their own. Inside is the tailor shop building and some of Johnson’s original tailor equipment such as a bench made for him by his brother, a stove, candle molds, a water pitcher, and a large iron, or goose in tailor lingo. You can lift up the goose to see how heavy it is. Information panels provide a brief history of the tailor shop.

Johnson's tailor goose

Johnson’s tailor goose

When built, the Memorial Building also housed the Andrew Johnson Museum, though today most items are located in the Visitor Center. You will, however, find a few of Johnson’s personal belongings. The largest piece is a desk that he brought with him when traveling between Washington, D. C., and Nashville when he was the military governor of Tennessee during the Civil War. This position was similar to that of a foreign ambassador, making him the go-between for the Union officials in Washington and the Confederates in Tennessee.

Johnson's field desk

Johnson’s field desk

A visit to the tailor shop is certainly anti-climactic. You can’t go inside. In fact, a gate prevents you from even getting close enough to look inside at the interior furnishings. Most people are going to walk in and walk right out. However, if you want to read all of the materials in the small museum, plan to spend about fifteen minutes.

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Last updated on March 9, 2020
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