William Hayes Acklen (1855-1940)


William was born at Belmont and educated with home tutors.  He later attended Montgomery Bell Academy and received several degrees from the University of Nashville and Vanderbilt University.  Although he received a law degree he never practices.  He moved to Washington, D. C. with Adelicia and his sister Pauline and his brother Claude.  Following Adelicia’s death in 1887 he and Claude purchased a house on O Street in Washington.  He was offered a post as Secretary of Legation in Spain in the early 1880s but refused. 


In 1893, at the age of 38, he married Laura Crocker of Cleveland, Ohio.  They immediately separated following their European honeymoon and were granted a divorce the following year. 


William viewed himself as an author and published three volumes of poetry and one novel.  The novel entitled Sterop was a romanticized view of the old south and self-published in 1892.  He never worked but was very successful at investments.  Most of his time was spent traveling, going to Europe almost annually. 



He purchased a winter home in Ormond Beach, Florida.   He summered at Lake Mohonk in New York, and with his sister Pauline and her family at Atlantic City, New Jersey.  During this time he maintains his legal residence in Washington, D. C.  For unknown reasons he changed the spelling of his last name to the more English version, Ackland.


When he died unexpectedly in 1940 he left his estate valued at $1.4 million for the establishment of an art museum at a southern university.  Duke was his first choice, but the university was unwilling to agree to one of the terms of the will  - William’s final resting place was to be in a sarcophagus with a recumbent statue in the museum.  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill agreed to the terms and the Ackland Art Museum opened in 1958.

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Belmont Blvd & Acklen Avenue 

Nashville, TN 37212


1900 Belmont Blvd

Nashville, TN 37212


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The architecture of Belmont Mansion makes it one of the most significant homes of 19th century Tennessee.

Sold by the Acklen family in 1887, the house went to a developer who began one of Nashville’s early suburbs.

It was then purchased by two women who in 1890 started a college which evolved into Belmont University. Today the Belmont Mansion Association, which was formed in 1972, owns the collection, runs the museum, and shares this unique story of 19th century Nashville with visitors from far and near.

Photos by Ed Houk