The Belmont Mansion came to be because of the life of one woman, Adelicia Hayes Franklin. In 1849, Adelicia married Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, a young attorney from Alabama and immediately after they wed, they began construction of Belle Monte on 180 aces in Davidson County. Belle Monte was completed in 1853 as an Italian villa style summer home, a perfect hideaway for the couple from Adelicia’s seven Lousiana-based cotton plantations.
Together the Acklen’s built, furnished and landscaped Belle Monte, which quickly came to be known as one of the most elaborate antebellum homes in the South with 36 rooms and 19,000 square feet.
The estate contained multiple buildings, with the mansion sitting proudly atop a hill. The mansion’s balconies were covered with cast iron railing and trim to protect the home and windows from the sun and on the roof of the home was found a 10-foot octagonal cupola which vented the house in the summer months as well as provided an astronomical observatory for star-gazing in addition to a million-dollar view of the estate in its entirety and the greater Nashville area. Beside the home was a guest home and art gallery (which had a corrugated glass roof), with the guest home containing several rooms and even a bowling alley!
The elaborate style that the Acklen’s enjoyed didn’t stop with their home, the grounds were also done up lavishly, with gardens, conservatories, an aviary, lake and even a zoo. Inside the conservatories, tropical fruits and flowers including camellia japonica, jasmine, lillies and cacti could be found. The zoo was truly a zoo, with animals ranging from bears to birds, alligators to deer and peacocks to owls.
Despite a two-week occupation by Union General Thomas J. Wood prior to the Battle of Nashville, the Belmont Mansion and its contents went undamaged during the Civil War. Only its grounds, which housed 13,000 Union troops for two weeks in December of 1864, suffered damages.
In the months before her death, Adelicia sold the mansion and estate to Lewis T. Baxter for $54,000. In 1890, it opened as a women’s finishing school which soon merged with Ward’s Seminary and in 1913, was renamed Ward-Belmont. Decades later in 1951, the Tennessee Baptist Convention purchased the school and created Belmont University, a four-year, coeducation college. Several years ago, in 2007, Belmont University separated from the Tennessee Baptist Convention and today remains a growing university in Nashville.
Today the mansion continues to stands tall and acts as a museum on the campus of Belmont University, where its history is shared through daily tours. Four sculptures from Rome still remain in the mansion today, as well as the original gilt frame mirrors hanging over the original marble mantels. The gardens remain kept as part of Belmont University’s grounds and the 105-foot water tower remains on campus as a Bell Tower for the school. In 1971, the Belmont Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Belmont Mansion is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.belmontmansion.com or call 615-460-5459 for tour prices and more information.