Artifact in the Attic

Most days when Belmont Mansion’s doorbell rings, a visitor is at the door, curious to learn more about Adelicia Acklen, her home, and Nashville history. Yesterday morning, however, Hayes Acklen Noel, one of Adelicia’s descendants, visited us, bringing with him a 2.5” x 3.125” original artifact that he found in his grandmother’s attic. It was a cabinet miniature of Joseph Hayes Acklen, Adelicia’s son.

Thanks to a ledger entry from the studio of artist we have known of this objects existence. What we did not know is what happened to it. According to the spidery handwriting on the back of the miniature it was "painted by John W. Dodge Nashville Tenn. finished Nov. 9th 1852. ____ of Joseph for J. A. S. Acklen $75.00."

Originally from New York, John Wood Dodge had no formal art education, but he was still well known for his miniatures. His studio in Nashville was open from 1838 until the Civil War, when his loyalty to the Union prompted him to return to New York. For more information on his accomplishments, check out his biography on the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery’s website -

After adjusting for 163 years of inflation, the miniature would cost over $2,000 in today’s dollars. According to the ledger, a miniature of Adelicia was commissioned at the same time as the one of her son. However, Adelicia’s was a bit more expensive, with a purchase price of $125 (that’s over $3,000 in today’s dollars). And you probably thought getting a professional family portrait taken was expensive! This miniature of Adelicia, as well as one of her second husband (also by Dodge) are still in the family today.

We are very grateful to Hayes Acklen Noel for his donation to Belmont Mansion.

And for the rest of us, it may be time to clean out those attics and see what family treasures might need rescuing from the dust bunnies.

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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