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Belmont Mansion (Bellemonte)

Updated: Apr 19

1860 Artwork by unknown artist

The goal of Adelicia and Joe was to build the most beautiful “country seat” in Tennessee - they succeeded. Belmont Mansion was constructed on one of the highest hills about 2 miles south of downtown Nashville near the end of Bellemonte Ave. (at a time when Bellemonte extended from Division St. out to the southern reaches of town).

Perched on a high, breeze-catching spot on 180 acres, Col. Joseph “Joe” Alexander Smith Acklen (1816-1863) and his wife, Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham (1817-1887) built the mansion between 1849-1853 as a summer home. It was styled as an Italian villa with numerous porches to catch summer breezes, 36 rooms and 19,000 square feet. Their property actually included 2 tracts: Belmont Mansion area and Montvale Estate, a working plantation. After her previous husband Isaac Franklin died, Adelicia left Sumner Co. and moved to a home on Cherry St. in Nashville in 1846. Within a couple years, she married Acklen. They then amassed a huge swath of land south of Nashville proper.

Belmont Mansion estate bordered these current streets: Portland Ave. and Magnolia Blvd in the west to 15th Ave. near Bernard Ave. in the east then 15 Ave. S. and Wedgewood Ave. to the north and west to 21st Ave. and Belcourt Ave. Montvale was their working farm to the south: Winding narrowly down Belmont Blvd until Ashwood Ave. then stretching west to Rosewood Ave. and 12th Ave. S. and Sweetbriar Ave. to the east.

The Acklens married in 1849 and mostly resided at the Louisiana Estates established with her first husband Isaac Franklin (Fairvue). Acklen’s family was from Huntsville, AL, and his grandfather John Hunt was a founder of that city. In 1840, Acklen was the U.S. Attorney for the North Alabama Judicial District. Adelicia was a member of the prominent Hayes clan: Her father Oliver Bliss Hayes moved the family from a home on Cherry St. in downtown Nashville to a country estate, Rokeby; sister Corinne and her husband William Lawrence of adjoining Hillside; her brother of Acklen Hall; her son, Henry Martin Hayes of Ensworth. The evening prior to their marriage, Adelicia presented Joseph with a prenuptial agreement protecting her property, and he signed it.

Over the years, Joseph demonstrated his excellent talents as a businessman and manager. Their goal was to build the finest country home in the state of Tennessee with very extensive gardens and landscaping. The combined assets of the family included an estate that extended from Hillsboro Pike to Middle Franklin Pike [Granny White Pike] and Adelicia’s holding from her marriage to first husband, Isaac Franklin, which included substantial land north in Gallatin and several plantations in Louisiana. After Franklin’s death, Adelicia was said to be the richest woman in the United States. After Nashville fell to the Federals at the start of the Civil War, Acklen went to Louisiana to oversee his seven plantations which were the primary source of the family’s wealth. In 1863, Acklen died at the Angola Plantation after a carriage accident when he had to return home on foot and wet. [In West Feliciana Parish, Angola and other plantations were bought by the state of Louisiana in 1901 and modified for use as Louisiana State Penitentiary - the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S.]

Adelicia, in 1867, married Dr. William Archer Cheatham (1820-1900). She soon thereafter grew disenchanted with the marriage and moved to first Florida and then to Washington, DC by 1885. She later died while on a shopping trip in New York. Her son, Joseph Hayes Acklen (1850-1938) and his family resided at Belmont until it was sold.

Adelicia sold the Belmont mansion and nearby land (15 acres) shortly before her death in 1887 to Lewis Thompson Baxter (1852-1927). Baxter was married to Joanna Evans Baxter (1863-1933). Baxter was a prominent Nashville businessman while living in Nashville. In 1889, he was a principal in the Main Street and Lischy Ave. Street Railway Company. Subsequently, Baxter and others bought and transferred lots to the Belmont Land Company to develop neighborhoods along the new Belmont Blvd. Much of the larger estate was partitioned off and sold as residential neighborhoods grew in the area. Two years later, in 1889, Susan L. Heron and Ida B. Hood, educators, purchased the Belle Monte property to start a new collegiate institution for young women.

In the Fall of 1890, Belmont Collegiate School/ Belmont College for Young Women opened a women’s academy and junior college. The two founders intentionally used the term college instead of seminary for their organization. It was not a traditional “finishing school” for young ladies - instead it strove “to provide cultural, intellectual, and social learning and the empowerment of ‘lives of purpose.’” - per the Belmont history web site.

Twenty-three years later, in 1913, Heron and Hood retired and built Braeburn mansion. In that year, the school merged with established Dr. William E. Ward’s Seminary for Young Ladies and was called Ward-Belmont College. The Ward Seminary for Young Ladies had been founded in 1865 by Ward and his wife Eliza Hudson Ward and offered academic instruction. It had been located at 262 Eighth Ave. North (now Rosa L. Parks Blvd). The new institution remained on the Belle Monte campus. In 1870, Ward Seminary was ranked among the top 3 educational institutions for women in the country. By the late 1950s, Ward-Belmont had bank debt and other financial challenges.

In 1951, the TN Baptist Convention purchased the property and opened a four-year co-educational college - a new Belmont College. In 2007, Belmont separated from the TN Baptist Convention. Currently, the mansion is owned by the Belmont Mansion Association and Belmont University and run by the Belmont Association. The remaining gardens are managed by the University. Belmont remains the second largest antebellum home intact in the U.S. Belle Mont translates in Italian to “beautiful mountain.”

Ward-Belmont preparatory school moved to the former P.M. Estes estate of Grayswood and was renamed The Harpeth Hall School in 1951. NRHP 1971 See Acklen Hall, Belmont, Braeburn, Fairvue, Grayswood, Hillside

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