Belmont Mansion, Nashville Tennessee
Mrs J.A.S. Acklen was the wealthly widow of Isaac Franklin, who built Fairview.
Belmont is not comparable with the house she evacuated for it was not to serve the same functions, not to live the pioneer life, but, on the contrary, was to become, and did, the center of social life in a flourishing and cultural city.
Situated on the side of a large rectangular tract of land, all completely and formally landscaped, the enormous facade looks down on the succession of diminishing circles toward the conservatory and water tower which terminate the magnificent vista.
The facade itself presents a formal composition, not unlike in silhouette that of Belle Meade, The Hermitage, Mercer Hall and others, in that it consists of a large two story central section with lower, nominally, one story wings on either side. These one story wings are, in reality, two stories due to the fact that the first floor of the central section is raised so high as to cause the basement to be completely above ground. Insofar as the mass is concerned, its only departure from the style as compared to the other houses named above is the addition of an observatory tower. This tower, though not exactly homogeneous as regards the style of architecture, completes the silhouette in a pleasing manner.
As soon as we have begun to take in the elements of the house, the architectural detail and the materials of construction, all of this association with Belle Meade, The Hermitage, Mercer Hall, etc. is lost. The scene changes and we see that there is a strong resemblence in fenestration, columnation and detail with the PETITE TRIANON in the gardens of the Palace at Versailles, and we realize that again this little palace has appealed to the discrimination of another great lady. The entrance feature consists of a recessed portico with two Corinthian columns forming three bays "between the end projections that form the recess, ^'hese columns support a well proportioned cornice extending over the portico and completely around the building. Superimposed above the cornice is a low parapet wall, the corners of which being accentuated by marble statues.
On either side of the entrance motiff there occurs a delicate one story projecting porch, done also in the Corinthian Order, and surmounted by a ballustrade. The roofs of these porches form balconies for large windows opening out onto them from the second floor.
A light cast iron balcony is contained within the entrance recess at the second floor. This recess and balcony departs in plan from the PETITE TRIANON, though the partee is not destroyed in elevation. The second and most important departure is the addition of the observation tower on the top. While this tower completes the silhouette pleasingly from a distance, it is lacking in taste and refinement of detail; being surmounted by a crudely bracketed cornice.
The two wings projecting on both sides from the central section of the house carry out the same detail as to windows, cornices, etc., but here again we find another feature that characterizes Belmont as a house of the South. This feature is an addition of east iron balconies of a very lace-like character. The detail of this cast iron, while it has been copied since, does not occur elsewhere in this section and much attention has been brought to the house by it.
On entering the house the visitor is admitted to a small formal foyer with a white carara marble fireplace directly opposite the entrance and framed by two large doorways. Surmounting the mantel is an enormous gold-framed mirror and over the two doorways on either side occur transoms of lovely red etched Venetian glass. This whole form of composition, in addition to being a physical obstruction, is also a psychological barrier against entrance to the great hall, or atrium beyond, and at once is likened to the same treatment employed in one of Virginians most famous houses, Claremont, on the James River.
proceding further into the house one passes under the grand stair case. this stair rises from the great hall, divides and passes over the two doorways leading from the entrance foyer. Emerging from under the stair one comes out into a great hall of magnificent splendor. A fluted Corinthian Colonade borders the room on the stair side, supporting an elaborate plaster cornice of rich and almost baroque detail, that continues around the entire room. The hall is spanned by an elyptical ceiling, rising from the cornice and decorated only by a simple plaster ornament of leaf design. The chandelier hangs from the center of this ornament. Directly opposite the stair a large bay window projects to the rear of the house. On either side of this bay is a group of three arched windows set in deep paneled reveals. Of singular interest in this room is the absence of any apparent source of heat, there being no fireplaces or flues.
The two rooms on the left, and likewise on the right, side of the entrance foyer are separated by a wall with fire-places on both sides, back to back, and the same composition of fire-places with doors on either side, employed in the entrance, is recalled in these rooms. They, too, are embellished with rich cornices, heavily molded doors, Carara marble mantels and great gold-framed mirrors. The remaining space of the first floor is divided into rooms which cannot be named as to usage, but must have served more personal or private functions. They are not treated with the lavish display mentioned above, but a more restrained dignity is maintained.
The grand stair giving access to the second floor rises gracefully to a center landing where it divides, passes over the doors beneath, turns and comes back to form a delightful composition. It is characterized by slender white ballusters supporting a mahogany rail, mahogany newels, dark oak treads and white risers and stringers.
Bedrooms comprise the major portion of the second floor, but its most interesting feature is the stair leading up to the observatory tower. A unique treatment is resorted to in this stair. Reversing the system used at the first floor, this little stair is divided at the bottom, rises in the form of an arch, meets at a midpoint landing and extends up as a single stair at right angles to the stair arch from which it takes off. This stair hall is also treated with Corinthian columns'supporting the arch over the stair well. After leaving the hall most of the detail is omitted, but that which remains is handled with the same care and workmanship that existed throughout the house.
The garden which afforded the setting for this lovely mansion was a spectacle of grandeur seldom seen anywhere, and it may be said that few, if any in Tennessee, either past or present, surpass it in size and splendor. There was originally a succession of three large planting circles, diminishing in size as they receded from the house in a series of lower levels.
The circles are formed by walks and cross-walks dividing the planting areas. The first circle was a formal, severe lawn embellished with marble statues. Two tea-houses are between this circle and the mansion, one on each side of the walk to the steps. A single central walk divides this circle into two parts and a simple marble fountain occurs in the center. Two smaller walks lead off from this circle terminating with two more smaller cast iron tea-houses.
The second, or middle, circle was divided "by flower bordered walks into three planting areas with points of intersection accented by boxwoods. In the center of this circle is located the largest of all of the five cast iron summer, or tea-houses, and affords the only major break in the view from the house to the conservatory.
Each succeeding circle becomes smaller and more complicated till the end, and so the third and last is an involved mosaic composed of three circles with staggered cross-walks with more colorful and less formal flowers blooming therein. Terminating this procession of circles is the long botanical nursery, or conservatory, a tremenduous glass building having a high central section and long lower wings on both sides. Immediately to the rear of this, is the water tower, rising one hundred and five feet on direct axis with the rest of the ensemble. As the grounds extended away from the central feature, smaller and less important walks and '.. two major drives wound over the grounds through the boxwood lanes to the many lesser buildings, and to the highway at either side- As the distance from the main-axis was increased so were the size of the trees till at the edges an almost natural heavily wooded condition existed, thus forming a gigantic amphitheatre of trees enclosing a garden of formal lovliness.
The other buildings in the group not mentioned before are: the art gallery, bowling alley, ice house, zoo, gardener's house, propagating house, small tower, bear house, large stables and small stables. A lake, an orchard and a deer park completed this, one of the most elaborate of developments.
Most of the known additions were made after the house became a school. The first addition, attached to the original wings, was made in 1890. In 1903 an addition was made on the north side, obscuring the original exterior. In the 1910s, a three-story wing was added on the west, and a few years later a similar one was added to the east.