Fans of thoroughbred racing will find Belle Meade Plantation a very interesting place to visit but it is interesting enough to entertain any visitor. What began as a boarding stable for the likes of Andrew Jackson became the premier stud farm in the U.S. by the late 19th century. The original plantation consisted of 5,400 acres and covered what is of current city of Belle Meade, Tennessee. All that remains today is the plantation house and 30 acres of land, along with some outbuildings and an original log cabin.
The Harding family moved onto this land in Nashville early in the
19th century. There was already a log cabin on the site. The original
owner was John Harding, but it was William Harding who had the great
interest in horse breeding. What you will see today is his 1853 Greek
Revival plantation house.
The greatest sire of all time, Bonnie Scotland, was purchased and
brought to Belle Meade at the age of 19 in 1872. All of the winners of
the Kentucky Derby between 1972 and 1996 are descended from him, as well
as most of the Triple Crown winners. Among his descendants are
Seabiscuit, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Secretariat. Iroquois, the most
famous horse of the 1880s and ’90s, was also a product of Belle Meade.
Among the races that he won was the English Derby.
He was the first American born and bred horse to ever accomplish that
feat. In his time, he was making $25,000 a year in stud fees.
To take the tour you gather on the front porch and then a costumed
guild will take you into the entrance hall. It is lined with horse
prints, in the style of English artist George Stubbs. If you were not aware of the history of Belle Meade before this, you soon will be.
There are costumed guides in each of the rooms. They have a great
deal of information to offer and they will answer questions as well. One
thing you do notice is there are many mirrors in these old homes. The
guides explained that mirrors helped to reflect the light, especially at
night. You really can’t imagine how dark it was before the advent of
William Harding as a southerner was sent to a prison camp in
Michigan, and for six months during the Civil War Union troops occupied
Belle Meade. They caused some damage, his wife Elizabeth didn’t take
abuse to her house lightly. She wrote to the Lieutenant Governor and, as
a result, the Union troops then became the guards of the plantation.
The doors and woodwork in the house is worthy of note. They look like
oak or mahogany, depending on which room you are in. They are neither;
they are poplar and are faux painted to look like more expensive wood.
In the library you will see Iroquois’ silver-capped hooves in one of the
The house is decorated in typical style of the Victorian period. You
will notice some interesting pictures made from feathers.
You must visit
Belle Meade on a guided tour. You buy your ticket in the gift shop.
It is a very nice gift shop with an exceptional collection of books, so
while you’re waiting for your tour to begin, it is worth browsing. The
carriage house has a fine collection of carriages, and there is a
restaurant, which is open for lunch. The restaurant also offers
On the property, there are some out buildings that you can visit and
it is very pleasant to stroll in the grounds. Allow several hours for
your visit here.