History of Belmont Mansion
The moving spirit behind Belmont Mansion is Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham; born on March 15, 1817, into a prominent Nashville family.
At the age of 22, Adelicia married Isaac Franklin, a wealthy businessman and plantation owner who was 28 years her senior. Isaac Franklin and Adelicia had four children together, all of whom died by the age of 11. After seven years of marriage, Isaac Franklin died unexpectedly on one of his plantations in Louisiana.
At his death in 1846 his estate included: 8,700 acres of cotton plantations in Louisiana; Fairvue, a 2,000-acre farm in Tennessee; more than 50,000 acres of undeveloped land in Texas; stocks and bonds; and 750 enslave people. Consequently the young widow, Adelicia Franklin was only 29 and independently wealthy, worth about $1 million.
On May 8, 1849, Adelicia remarried, to Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, a lawyer from Huntsville, Alabama. The Acklens would eventually have six children.
Construction of Belmont Mansion on the Beautiful Mountain
Together the Acklens built Belmont Mansion (originally named Belle Monte or Beautiful Mountain), completing first phase of construction in 1853. The final phase was completed in 1860.
Belmont Mansion was built in the style of an Italian villa and was set amidst elaborate gardens. There were numerous outbuildings, including the water tower, which still stands, that provided irrigation for the gardens and supplied water for the fountains. In front of the water tower stood a two-hundred-foot long greenhouse and a conservatory. Also on the grounds were an art gallery, gazebos (still standing today), a bowling alley, a bath house, and a zoo. Adelicia Acklen opened the estate to the citizens of Nashville to enjoy the zoo and gardens.
The Civil War
Adelicia’s husband Joseph died on September 11, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War while managing Adelicia’s Louisiana land holdings, including Angola plantation. At the time of his death, there were 2,800 bales of Acklen cotton—worth literally a fortune—in storage. Refusing to risk losing her fortune to theft or destruction, Adelicia undertook a very risky trip to Louisiana with a female cousin to “negotiate” the illegal sale of her cotton to a broker in Liverpool, England, for $960,000 in gold.
The Third Marriage
In 1867, Adelicia married Dr. William Cheatham, a prominent Nashville physician.
Move to Washington, D. C.
In 1885, Adelicia moved to Washington, D.C., with three of her four surviving adult children. She, her daughter Pauline and Dr. Cheatham had spent an increasing amount of time in the capitol city. Adelicia had travelled throughout her life with Washington as only one of many places she visited frequently.
In January of 1887 she sold Belmont to a land development company. She began construction of a new home, pictured here, smaller in scale than Belmont, on Massachusetts Avenue.
Later that year, she contracted pneumonia while on a shopping trip to New York City, and died in The Fifth Avenue hotel. Her body was returned to Nashville to be buried in the family mausoleum at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
The School years
Late in the nineteenth century, two women from Philadelphia purchased Belmont Mansion from the land development company and in the fall of 1890, they opened a school for young women called Belmont College. In 1913 that school merged with the Nashville school, Ward Seminary, was renamed Ward-Belmont and became an academy and junior college for women. In 1951, the school changed ownership, becoming present-day Belmont University. Today, Belmont University is a coeducational, liberal arts school offering bachelor and graduate degrees.
The Restoration Begins
Belmont Mansion Association, a private nonprofit restoration and preservation organization, was formed in 1972 with the purpose of caring for, restoring and maintaining this historic site.
Belmont Mansion is the largest house museum in Tennessee and one of the few nineteenth century homes whose history revolves around the life of a woman. Today, restoration and operation of Belmont Mansion is funded by admissions, membership, fundraising events, corporate and private donations, and venue rental services.