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Belair/ Belle Air (Lebanon Pike): A Harding Daughter wedding gift

Updated: Mar 2



Belair / Belle Air was built on a grant of 1,000 acres from 1832-38 at 2250 Lebanon Pike near Lebanon Pike and Briley Parkway. John Harding of Belle Meade gave the acreage and the mansion for his newly-wed daughter Elizabeth Virginia Harding Clay (1812-1836) and her husband, Joseph W. Clay (1808-1853).They wed in 1827. Elizabeth was the second of Joes' brides: 1st Rebecca Elizabeth Holman Vaughan Clay (1807-1825)(m. 1823); 4th Sarah Greer "Sally" Fletcher Clay (?-1862)(m. 1893).


It is a large 30-room Greek Revival-style mansion modeled after The Hermitage. Clay was a noted horse breeder and racer. In “Belle Meade: Mansion, Plantation and Stud,” Ridley Wills believes the Belair name came from Belair Stud, a famous horse farm outside of Annapolis, MA. Clay joined the Harding family in becoming shareholders in a Nashville and Lebanon Turnpike Company.


The mansion was unfinished at Elizabeth’s death in 1836 and was sold to William L. Nichol (1800-1876) and Julia Margaret Lytle Nichol (1808-1890) in 1842. The Nichols got 253 acres with the mansion purchase and then added additional adjoining property for their sons, H.D. Nichol and J. Edgar Nichol. William had various interests including being a merchant and steamboat owner, serving as the first president of the Bank of Tennessee, and serving as the first mayor of Nashville. He and business partners were responsible for the purchase of Capitol Hill property and construction of a new capitol on it. In 1850, Belle Air comprised 1,250 acres. The Nichols lived at Belair until William’s death; then the family sold the property. Per lore, Nichols was Tennessee’s first Millionaire.


After the Nichol’s death, Julia sold the mansion to Major E. A. Burr of New York in 1880. Burr turned the property. About 1885, Mrs. M. P. Taylor purchased the property. A little more than a decade later, 1896, Andrew Hynes Gay (1841-1914) bought the place. Gay was brother-in-law to Andrew Price of Clover Bottom. His main business was sugar plantations in Louisiana.


Five years later, in 1901, T.P. Ayers and Lucy O. Ayers were the next owners with about 257 acres of land. The home was then called “Belle Air.” At some point, R. A. Coleman owned some of the land and in 1911 sold the home and 11 acres to J. H. Bradford. That year, Coleman also then sold over 125 acres to the Lannom family: J. W., G.R. and L. E. The Lannoms land was a semicircle about Belair, and they farmed and had a dairy - Melrose Dairy on Lebanon Rd. Belair itself only sat on 30-40 acres.


In 1921 Robert Donnell (R.D.) Stanford (1899-1944) and Myrtle Meredith Stanford (-1943) owned it. They wed in 1909. Stanford was a prodigious entrepreneur and promoter of the Donelson area. R.D. was a founding member of the board of the Bank of Donelson in 1936 (reorganized from the former Donelson Bank & Trust Co.); co-owner of Clover Bottom Farm (owned 1919-1939); president/ owner of the Donelson Furniture and Lumber Company (started 1933); and a director of the American National Bank of Nashville.


In the 1940s, it was purchased by Harry Hoyd (H.H.) Miller Chitwood (1902-1987) and Florence Anna Miller Chitwood (1904-1953) . H.H. served as Customs House Broker in 1931 and practiced law until his death. Their grandson Gregory Smith was an owner. During the expansion of Briley Parkway in the 1960s, much of the land surrounding Belair was lost. The mansion was saved from destruction and placed on the National Register list in 1971.


After Smith died in 2009, Belair was put on the market, and the local community feared it would be purchased and demolished. In 2014, Historic Nashville listed Belair as one of the Nashville Nine, landmarks that are endangered. Lewis B. James and Connie M. James purchased the home with about 5 acres two years later from Smith’s widow, Peggy and her new husband. Lewis is a real estate investor and Connie is an optometrist. The James family has opened the property as the Belle Air Mansion & Inn. NRHP 1971 See Belle Meade Mansion, Clover Bottom Farm


Sources:

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3 Comments


corinne.spicer
May 09

I grew up here- my mom is Peggy Smith. Along with my two siblings, I was one of the last children to be raised in Belair Mansion. I have so many stories!

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cjpendley - nashville
cjpendley - nashville
Dec 31, 2023

I believe there was another owner between the Ayers and Mr Stanford. A plat of the area dated 1919 shows the owner as Joseph Frank. The 1926 plat shows the owner as RD Stanford. There was another Nichol house back near the TN Central tracks, close to where Stanford scho0l is today. It is shown as owned by Harry Nichol. I don't know anything about him or the home. I've often heard of a home called Nicholhurst and wonder if this is it.

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Jay Brothers
Jan 04
Replying to

Well, CJPendley, you hit an interesting rabbit hole. A bit of research shows that Harry D Nichol was part of Nichol family of Belair. Had a downtown place & built Nicholhurst on the backside of Belair. It was substantial at 1,700 acres & he was a well-known breeder with this stock farm. Also, his first wife, Elizabeth Lytle Nichol was part of the Murfreesboro Lytles.

Haven't found anything about J. Frank yet. Thanks, Jay

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