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The Family of Belmont Mansion

The story of Belmont Mansion is not only told through the beautiful Victorian home and furnishings, but through the stories of some of the people who called Belmont home. 

Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham (1817-1887)
 

Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham is most often remembered as a socialite and owner of Belmont Mansion, however she also left a wide impact on the city of Nashville.   Born to Oliver Bliss Hayes (1782-1858) and Sarah Hightower Hayes (1796-1871) on March 15, 1817, she was raised in downtown Nashville where she attended the Nashville Female Academy.  When she was fifteen, her family moved to Rokeby Farm on the south side of Nashville.  After graduation from the Academy she became engaged to Alfonso Gibbs (1813-1834) but he died shortly before their marriage.  In 1839 Adelicia married Isaac Franklin (1789-1846) from Sumner County.  He died after seven years of marriage leaving an estate worth over $900,000.  In 1849 she married Joseph A. S. Acklen (1816-1863) from Huntsville, Alabama. Soon after their marriage they began constructing Belmont, designed to be a pleasure estate of 177 acres with ample gardens, greenhouses, an art gallery and a zoo.  Belmont became the showplace of Nashville and was open to the public as a private park and zoo.  In 1867 she married for the third time when she wed Nashville physician, Dr. William Archer Cheatham (1820-1900).

Adelicia began much of her charity work for Nashville in the years just before and during the Civil War. She was an initial investor in Nashville’s newest hotel by donating $2,000 to the Maxwell House Hotel. In 1861 she was elected Treasurer for the short lived Ladies Soldier’s Friend Society. Beginning in 1864 she served on the board of the Nashville Refugee Clothing Association, an organization established to support refugees of the war and assist Union women arriving in Nashville in search of their husbands and sons. In 1867 she gave a bell to First Presbyterian Church (now Downtown Presbyterian Church) and purchased $25,000 in city bonds for post-war city redevelopment.  She began to work with Nashville’s orphans when was she was elected Vice President of the Davidson County Auxiliary of the Orphans Asylum in Clarksville. She gave a large donation to the Protestant Orphanage in Nashville and remained involved in raising money for orphanages throughout her life in Nashville. During the 1880s, Adelicia served on the Board of Directors for the Working Women Exchange, which helped women working outside the home who had no male family members to provide for them. 

 

In addition to her charitable causes, Adelicia and Joseph were known for amassing Nashville’s first major art collection. She was generous in loaning her collection to various exhibitions including the Southern Industrial Exhibition in 1871; the Nashville Centennial in 1880; and the New Orleans World’s Fair, known as the Cotton Centennial, of 1884-1885. Recognized for her extensive knowledge and love of art, she was appointed by the Governor in 1875 to serve on a committee established to make selections for the Tennessee exhibit at the United States Centennial located in Philadelphia.

 

Adelicia and three of her adult children left Nashville for Florida in December of 1884 and by the following spring, they moved to Washington D.C. Adelicia lived in Washington until her death in May 1887.

Isaac Franklin (1789-1846)

 

Isaac Franklin, slave trader and planter, was born in Sumner County, Tennessee on May 26, 1789, the son of James and Mary Lauderdale Franklin.  James Franklin was a Revolutionary War soldier who had received a military land warrant in Tennessee. He was one of the first settlers of Sumner County.

Isaac Franklin served in the War of 1812, and at age eighteen, while working for his brother on a flatboat that ran from Gallatin to New Orleans, he conceived the idea of entering the slave trade. He formed a partnership with his nephew John Armfield to establish a slave trading business that soon came to be regarded as the largest in the South. The firm had offices in Alexandra, Virginia, New Orleans and Forks of the Road in Natchez, Mississippi.   Franklin retired from the business in 1835, but not before it had made him a wealthy man.

 

Thereafter, Franklin pursued the occupation of planter. He owned hundreds of enslaved people who worked six cotton plantations in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana of approximately 8,700 acres in addition to Fairvue, a 2,000-acre plantation near Gallatin, where he raised tobacco, cattle, and thoroughbred horses. In 1839, at the age of fifty, the bachelor Franklin married Adelicia Hayes, daughter of Oliver Bliss Hayes, a Nashville Presbyterian minister, lawyer, and noted businessman.

 

 

The couple summered at Fairvue and wintered in Louisiana.   They had four children, one of whom died at birth. After seven years of marriage, Franklin died while on the plantation in Louisiana. According to his wishes, the body was returned to Fairvue for burial. His remains were preserved in whiskey for the riverboat trip back to Tennessee. Six weeks later, two of his children, Victoria and Adelicia, also died.  Their last surviving child Emma lived to the age of 11 before dying of Diphtheria at Belmont.    

 

He and all of their children are now in the family Mausoleum at Mount Olivet in Nashville, TN.  

Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen (1816-1863)

 

Joseph was born in Huntsville, Alabama on July 6, 1816 to Samuel Black and Elizabeth Hunt Acklen. His grandfather, John Hunt, was the founder of Huntsville.  Both the Hunts and the Acklens were early settlers in northern Alabama.

 

At the age of 14, Joseph enrolled in the first class offered by the newly established University of Alabama. Most of his 51 classmates would become important early leaders in the state. Joseph attended school there for four years, receiving a classical education in Greek, Latin, and history. Although an essay book he used while at the university survives today, there is no record of his graduation.  However, he did receive an interest in architecture.  

 

When the Texas Revolution began in 1835, Joseph, along with other young men from Huntsville went west to fight under Capt. Peyton Wyatt. His company was assigned to Col. James W. Fannin, Jr., who was executed along with most of his men at Goliad, Texas on March 27, 1836. However, Joseph's company escaoed the massacre, having already left Texas to return home.

 

After the war, President Martin Van Buren appointed Joseph the United States Attorney for the North Alabama Judicial District in 1840. Prior to his appointment, he probably studied law in Huntsville with his older brother, William. During his time as a US Attorney, Joseph also operated a law practice with his brother. While visiting Nashville in April, 1847, Joseph attended a ball given by Mr. and Mrs. John Bell where he met the recently widowed Adelicia Franklin. Two years later, Joseph resigned from his position as US Attorney and moved to Nashville to marry Adelicia. 

Joseph arrived in Nashville on May 1, 1849 and checked into the Sewanee House Hotel along with his brother Mr. A. A. Acklen and Mr. E. H. Betts.  On May 6, another group of people arrive from Huntsville for their marriage on May 8. However, one day before their marriage, Adelicia asked Joseph to sign a marriage contract stating that she would retain ownership and control of all the property she brought to the marriage. He agreed.  The following day they married at her home on Cherry street. Dr. John Edgar, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, officiated at the ceremony. Attendees included former President James K. Polk and Mrs. Polk.  President Polk wrote in his journal, “The supper and whole entertainment was upon a magnificent scale.” It is assumed the couple left for a wedding trip soon after, but it is not clear where they went. However, they do end up in New Orleans on November 6th.

 

Joseph proved to be an excellent business manager.  In August of 1850, he purchased the first 129 acres of some 1,500 of land that he would add to Adelicia’s plantations in Louisiana.  By October, Joseph also had workers living on Belmont property to begin construction of the couple’s summer estate. Construction would last about three years and the family moved into Belmont in the late summer or early fall of 1853.

 

During their first eleven years of marriage, Joseph increased Adelicia’s assets by approximately two million dollars. Construction also continues at Belmont, both with renovations to the house as well as the addition of various outbuildings on the grounds. It is possible Joseph may have been the builder, since after he dies, Adelicia only adds one more building.

 

Despite his appointment as a US Attorney in Northern Alabama, Joseph never holds elected office in Tennessee or Louisiana, perhaps because he was only a part-time resident in both states. He was, however, involved in the Tennessee Democratic Party. He attended the Democratic National Convention in 1856, and was a representative of Louisiana at the Southern Convention of 1857 in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

 

When Tennessee seceded from the Union and war was declared, Joseph appeared to be a supporter of the Confederacy.  He paid for the outfitting of a company of soldiers, but this would have been a nominal expense for a person of such wealth. In February of 1862, Fort Donelson, which was upriver of Nashville, fell to the Union army. The Confederate army made no attempt to defend the city so Joseph, along with thousands of other citizens, fled the city. Joseph went to Louisiana to manage their plantations while Adelicia remained at Belmont.

 

The next year and a half was harrowing.  The location of the plantation on the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Red River was a prime spot for the crossing of Confederate troops, yet the river was controlled by Federal gunboats.  Because of the proximity of both armies, the cotton bales stored at all of the couple’s Louisiana plantations were in constant danger of being burned or confiscated.  Both armies would rather destroy the cotton then have the other side benefit from its sale. By the summer and fall of 1863, the Confederate army was threatening Joseph for not burning his cotton, which by now amounted to 8,500 bales of cotton.  The Federal army offered to protect him, but Joseph refused for fear of retaliation by renegade Confederate soldiers in the area. Eventually, against his will, the Federals did provide protection.  By August of 1863, Joseph was disillusioned, tired, sick, and apparently so arthritic he was unable to write. In a dictated letter to Adelicia sent on August 20th, he said the south had no chance of winning the war.  Slavery was finished and he was glad of it.

 

On September 11, 1863 at the age of 47, Joseph died on the Angola Plantation from what a newspaper called “bilious remittent fever” or malaria.  He was buried in the garden next to the rabbit pens.  However, he was later reburied in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Dr. William Archer Cheatham (1820-1900)

 

Antebellum medical reformer William A. Cheatham was born in Springfield in 1820, the second son of Robertson County's General Richard Cheatham (1799-1845) and Susan Saunders (1801-1864). He received his medical degree in March 1843 from the University of Pennsylvania Medical school. In 1847, he married Mary Emma Ready of Murfreesboro and they had two children, Martha Strong and Richard B. Cheatham. Dr. Cheatham was practicing medicine in Nashville when the legislature appointed him superintendent and physician of the newly constructed Tennessee Lunatic Asylum on March 1, 1852. The hospital was constructed in response to the reform movement which swept Tennessee in the 1830s, in particular to the crusade of reformer Dorothea A. Dix, who stated in 1858 that few institutions anywhere were superior to it. The program, which incorporated the most advanced theories of moral treatment, was praised not only by Dix on her frequent visits there, but also by Dr. W. K. Bowling, editor of the Nashville Journal of Medicine and Surgery. Sterling Cockrill and other trustees, upon unanimously electing Cheatham to a second eight-year term in 1859, gave him much of the credit for the hospital's reputation as one of the best in the nation.

 

The Civil War and the Union occupation of Middle Tennessee disrupted the work of the institution and its administrator; on July 25, 1862, Andrew Johnson, military governor of Tennessee, informed Cheatham of his dismissal as superintendent. Subsequently, he and Mrs. Cheatham were arrested and ordered to be confined to federal prison in Alton, Illinois. As they journeyed north, however, the order was rescinded due to Mrs. Cheatham's failing health. She died in Nashville on April 27, 1864.

 

In 1867 Cheatham remarried, choosing as a wife the wealthy Adelicia Acklen, mistress of Belmont. He also established a private practice in Nashville, which he continued almost up to the time of his death in 1900.

Reprinted form The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

 

Dr. Cheatham other accomplishments

  • Along with William Harding founded the Blood Horse Association following the Civil War.

  • Founding member of the Tennessee Horticultural Society in 1867.

  • Founding member to reorganized the Davidson Country Agricultural and Mechanical Association following the Civil War.

  • Appointed to the Nashville Board of Health in 1868.

  • Board of Directors of the Second National Bank in Nashville

  • In 1873 along with Dr. Ben J. Liddard opens a drug store at the corner of Vine and Church in Nashville.

  • Along with Gov. Brown he selects the site for the West Tennessee Insane Asylum.

  • Tennessee Committee for the National Centennial in Philadelphia.

  • Serves on the Board of Trustees for the Tennessee Insane Asylum following the Civil War.

Joseph Hayes Acklen (1850-1938)

 

Joseph was the first born child of Joseph and Adelicia Acklen.  He was born at their house on Cherry Street in downtown Nashville.  He was educated at home with private tutors before attending Burlington Military College, near Burlington, New Jersey, in 1864 and 1865. 

 

Following the Civil War he graduated from two foreign universities, Ecole de Neuilly in Paris and Swiss University in Vevay.  His law degree was received from Cumberland College, School of Law in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1871.  He began practicing law Memphis.   Joseph married Hattie Bethell of Memphis in 1871.  They moved to her sugar plantation in Patternsonville (now Patterson) St. Mary Parish Louisiana.   Hattie died in 1873 giving birth to their first child who also died.  Joseph inherited the plantation and resided there until 1884.

 

While in Louisiana, Joseph was elected to the United States Congress and served from 1878 to 1881.  In December of 1884 he returned to Nashville to practice law.  After Adelicia and the rest of the family moved to Washington, D. C. in 1885, he lived at Belmont until the house was sold in January of 1887.   Joseph married Jeanette Tillotson and together they had eight children. He died in Nashville on September 28, 1938, and is entombed in the Acklen mausoleum in Mount Olivet Cemetery

 

After moving back to Nashville, Joseph served in many roles in state and local government including:

  • Chairman of the Davidson County Democratic executive committee, 1886-1894

  • Member of the Nashville City Council, 1900-1904

  • President of the State Bar Association, 1901 and 1902

  • State Warden of the Department of Game, Fish, and Forestry, 1903-1913

  • General Counsel of the National Association of Game and Fish Commissioners of the United States, 1905-1912, for which he also served as president.

  • Middle Tennessee Counsel of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad, 1907-1911

  • First Chief Game Warden of the United States, 1913 and 1914

  • Chairman of the State Central Committee on the constitutional convention, 1923-1927

  • Author of numerous articles on ornithology, fish culture, forestry, and field sports.

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.

Claude Melnot Acklen (1857-1920)

 

Claude was born at Belmont on July 25, 1857, and educated with home tutors.  He later attended Montgomery Bell Academy.  He received his college education at Southwestern, a Presbyterian College in Clarksville now Rhodes College in Memphis.  In December of 1877 he was appointed United States Postmaster for Angola.  He held that position for a short time.   In 1885 he moved to Washington, D. C. with his mother and siblings, William and Pauline.

 

In 1885 Claude is appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs and assigned to the Round Valley Indian Agency in California.  He was in California for a short time and living back in Washington, D. C. by the time of his mother’s death in 1887.  Following Adelicia ’s death he and William moved into a house at 2107 O Street.  In 1890 he purchases a large house in Ellicott City, Maryland that he calls Greystone.  Today the house is more commonly known as Elmonte.   On October 5, 1891 he marries Ella Mason, from Macon George,  a former tutor at Belmont and fourteen years his senior.  During this period he serves as Maryland State Game Warden for the area.  By the late 1890s he owns controlling interest in The Maryland Telephone System in Hagerstown that he sells in September of 1901.

 

In 1905 he and Ella divorce having no children.   Ella moves to Nicholasville, Kentucky where she dies in 1913.  In March of 1911 Claude sold the house in Ellicott City.  In 1917 and 1918 he is listed in the City Directory of Jacksonville, Florida as a photographer.   He soon moves to Ormond Beach and lives with his brother William.  In the spring of 1920 he becomes ill and goes to Baltimore, Maryland for treatment where he dies on June 19, 1920.  He is entombed in the Acklen mausoleum at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.

Pauline Acklen (1859-1931)

 

Pauline was born at Belmont on October 10, 1859 and received her early education by home tutors.  She later attended Ward’s Seminary [a girl’s prep school] in downtown Nashville and Censas Institute in New Orleans. 

 

In 1877 Pauline goes to France to study for a year and during the summer of 1878 tours Europe.  She moves in 1885 with her mother and two of her brothers to Washington, D. C.  Following Adelicia’s death in 1887 Pauline inherits the house that Adelicia was building at 1776 Massachusetts Avenue. 

 

On July 9, 1888 Pauline marries James William Lockett of Macon, Georgia.  Following a European honeymoon the couple returns and lives in her house in Washington.  They had two children, Robert, who only lived for two years, and a daughter, Pauline.  Mr. Lockett had one daughter, Fannie, who also lived with them.   Pauline followed in her mother’s path as an astute business-woman.  Among her holdings was Bibb Textile of which she  was a major stockholder.   Bibb, headquartered in Macon, GA but by 1916 Bibb owned ten factories in Georgia as well as a Chattahoochee River dam site that powered the largest cotton mill in the country at that time in Columbus, Georgia.  At the time of her death during the Great Depression her estate was valued at approximately $500,000.  [Between $16.4 and $41.5 million in 2012 dollars]  For the last several years of her life Pauline was bedridden with a degenerative spinal disease.  On July 12, 1931, Pauline died at her residence on Massachusetts Avenue.  She is entombed in the Acklen mausoleum in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.  William Lockett is buried in Macon, Georgia.     

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GPS ADDRESS

Belmont Blvd & Acklen Avenue 

Nashville, TN 37212

MAILING ADDRESS

1900 Belmont Blvd

Nashville, TN 37212

615-460-5459

Photos by Ed Houk

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