The Lost Service Stair

Belmont Mansion’s spaces hidden below stairs functioned as the “control center” of Adelicia’s estate. A large kitchen, food storage areas, wine cellar, as well as a probable summer dining room were all located below the principle floor. Though it was far from a dark dank basement, the lower level had full daylight as the hill falls away quickly from the rear of the residence.

This staircase saw the delivery of all meals to both dining rooms on the main level. Fresh and dirty linen, along with other laundry, was also carried up and down these stairs. Any servant, whether enslaved or free, would be more familiar with the spaces below stairs than the elaborate rooms above. Their main point of access to the Acklens would have been this staircase.

We long suspected the service stair was located in the gallery between the two dining rooms, but all evidence had been lost when new oak flooring was installed about 1900 over the original marbleized floor. When two layers of modern flooring were removed in recent weeks, the location of the service stairs was revealed.

The 1853 stair outline was intact. We were able to determine not only the width and length of the stair, but also the direction from which it ran. An analysis of surviving evidence (worn floor boards) revealed the head of the stair began at the edge of the formal dining room opposite the service pantry. Further examination determined the point of attachment of the railing enclosing the opening. A repair to the architrave of the formal dining room door at the height of the balustrade offered evidence of the direction in which the stairs ran.

We now know dimensions of the balusters (erroneously known as spindles) used in the rail due to “ghost” marks remaining on Adelicia’s marbleized floor. It was also possible to ascertain the number and placement of balusters which were simply nailed into the floor, not dovetailed into the structure as would be expected. Conclusive evidence such as this will allow for future restoration of these elements, which we hope to begin in the coming months. Restoration of these elements will allow Belmont Mansion to include more information about the activities of all who called Belmont home, both enslaved and free.

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GPS ADDRESS

Belmont Blvd & Acklen Avenue 

Nashville, TN 37212

MAILING ADDRESS

1900 Belmont Blvd

Nashville, TN 37212

615-460-5459

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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