It could be said that the best way to get to know someone is to see where they live. If that’s true, the Farragut Museum now offers a particularly intimate look at the personal life of the first U.S. Admiral, David Glasgow Farragut. For what could be more personal than someone’s couch?
The museum recently acquired the sofa that was built for Admiral Farragut’s cabin on the USS Hartford. If you need a history refresher, Farragut was on the Hartford during the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864, when he ordered his fleet to charge the Confederacy’s last major open port. His famous response to word that the area was heavily mined was “Damn the torpedoes.” Farragut was born at Lowe’s Ferry, just a few miles from the town now named for him.
Last June, the town was contacted by a representative of the family that owned the couch. It was rescued and restored by Franklin Drake, Captain of Mare Island Navy Yard, when the Hartford was dismantled. Drake kept the sofa until his death in 1929, and it passed through two other families before being acquired by the museum in August. It was purchased with funds collected through the Friends of the Museum program and donations of museum visitors.
The couch required some attention when it arrived at the town hall with a broken leg. Fortunately, Historic Resources Coordinator Julia Barham knew the perfect person to repair the artifact. She reached out to George Collins, the former director of the museum studies program at Tusculum University who also has a chair restoration business.
Collins explained that the curved sofa, which is also slanted in the back, was designed to fit into the captain’s cabin in the ship’s stern. There is a little ledge on the back of the sofa that rested on a cleat in the wall to keep the sofa stationary while the ship was in motion.
The back legs don’t match the rest of the sofa, so they are not original. But chair blocks on the bottom of the sofa are original, he says, and a second set of screw holes indicates that it had supportive back legs when it was on the Hartford. Those were likely replaced to make the sofa functional after it was removed from the ship. The newer legs extend past the bottom of the slanted sofa to keep it from tipping over.
The leg broke because the wooden sofa is incredibly heavy, George says. Even the sofa cushion, stuffed with horsehair, is very heavy.
He enjoyed working on a piece of furniture with such an interesting provenance. Antique furniture always tells a story, he says.
“All artifacts will talk to you if you ask the right questions.”
The Admiral’s sofa is currently on display in the Farragut Museum as part of a vignette designed to replicate his cabin aboard the Hartford. Other artifacts include a wall panel from the ship and his writing desk.
The sofa is an amazing addition to the museum’s Admiral Farragut collection, Julia says.
“We’re excited to have had the opportunity to purchase the couch that was in the captain’s cabin during one of the pivotal battles of the Civil War. It’s honestly incredible that it survived removal from the ship.”
The Farragut Museum, located inside Farragut Town Hall at 11408 Municipal Drive, is open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
Wendy Smith coordinates public relations and marketing for the town of Farragut.