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Adelicia’s Belmont estate was not simply an elaborate garden and grounds, it was also Nashville’s first zoo. The zoo was located on the west side of the Belmont estate and contained alligators, a deer park and an aviary. The only surviving structure from the zoo is the aviary, which is a large cage or building used to house birds. The aviary is currently located in front of Wright and Maddox dormitories, behind the Beaman Student Life Center. This is not the structure’s original location and it is unable to be moved since its original location is occupied by another building.

Even though the aviary is made of iron, it differs from the gazebos in two significant ways. First, the aviary is nearly twice the size of the gazebos and it is made of wrought iron, not the cast iron of the gazebos. Cast iron is molten iron that is poured into molds while wrought iron involves heated bars of iron that are worked with a hammer. The use of wrought iron in such a decorative fashion was unusual during the middle of the nineteenth century. The brackets that hold the large overhang of the roof are particularly rare wrought iron work. Interestingly, the aviary is octagonal, as are the existing gazebos and original bath house. All known structures on the Belmont estate were octagonal in shape or had an octagonal feature such as a tower or cupola.

We know little about the collection of birds that were housed in the aviary. There is mention of a friend sending Adelicia a white owl from Arkansas. Additionally, we know that Adelicia’s husband, Joseph, was very interested in animals and the zoo may have been his personal project. Their son, Joseph Hayes Acklen, would later play a major role in wildlife preservation. He served as the first game warden for the state of Tennessee and later as the first United States Game Warden.

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