The Next Act: Restoring the Billiard Room
In 1880, a visitor to Belmont Mansion described a room “devoted to billiards, books, smoking and other amusements.” Within ten years of that visit, the mansion had been sold, purchased by two women who started Belmont College for Young Women, and that Billiard Room had been subdivided into dormitory spaces for students. Today, the Belmont Mansion Association is restoring that room and its adjacent service gallery to their original condition. When completed, this room will be one of the only 19th century billiard rooms open for tours in the South.
Original bell pull and wallpaper discovered in the Billiard Room during research and recovery phase.
Photograph of the Grand Salon during the early college years showing the door to the Billiard Room
When physical investigations of the Billiard Room began looking for evidence of the architectural features of the room was paramount. Close inspection of the walls reveal faint traces of an earlier cornice. Using 19th century period illustrations and references of Billiard Rooms it was documented that a cornice created in plaster was common.
In early 2022 Liddle Brothers Contractors provided skilled craftsman who re-created such a run-in-place cornice using 19th century techniques.
The first step in any restoration project at Belmont Mansion begins with research. That work includes written accounts - like the one above - and the slow, careful removal of modern finishes to reveal the historic details underneath. So far, the original material we have uncovered includes a bell pull, recessed bookcases - one with all of the original 1850s wallpaper, doorways, and cue stick cabinet. Additionally, discovered under a modern wall, was a portion of the original 1850s Acklen period floorcloth painted in the style of a flowered Brussels carpet of the period which covered the room. This is the fourth historic floorcloth of which we have knowledge in Belmont Mansion.
The Billiard Room, and the entertainments which happened in it, did not stand in isolation in the house. The room contained another entrance - this one not to the public Grand Salon - but the service gallery. This space would have been utilized by staff (both free and enslaved) who provided whatever was required of the family and guests who engaged in games and conversation in the Billiard Room. It's a significant space in this house where the primary service areas were converted to modern office space in the mid 20th century. That conversion left behind scant evidence of the work spaces which were vital to the functioning of the house and where the stories of those who did that work can be told. Thus the reclaiming of this small service gallery is an important addition to the whole story of the house. Once the work on the Billiard Room is complete our attention will turn to the service gallery and the people who lives were lived as house laborers here at Belmont Mansion.