Adelicia Acklen, "the mistress of Belmont," was one of the wealthiest and most interesting women of the antebellum south. She was the oldest daughter of Oliver Bliss Hayes and Sarah Clements. Oliver Bliss Hayes was a prominent Nashville lawyer, judge, Presbyterian minister, land speculator, and cousin to President Rutherford B. Hayes.
In March 15,1817, Adelicia Hayes was born in Nashville. Her parents moved into Rokeby, a federal styled house that was located at 1908 Grand Avenue. Adelicia spent her childhood there. She was sixteen when she graduated from the Nashville Female Academy with highest honors.
Adelicia fell in love with Alphonse Gibbs, a Harvard Law School graduate and son of a prominent Nashville lawyer and banker and in 1834 at age seventeen, they were engaged to be married. Alphonse contracted typhoid fever and died before they were able to marry.
In July 7, 1839, at age twenty-two she married her first husband, Isaac Franklin of Sumner County. The wedding took place at Rokeby which was her parents home. A 50 year old wealthy cotton planter and slave trader, who was twenty-eight years her senior.
Adelicia's new home was Fairvue, a 2,000 acre stock and grain farm near Gallatin. Isaac Franklin had built this home in 1832. Apparently the Franklins were very happy together, because their marriage lasted 7 years and produced 4 children. None of her children survived childhood.
Adelicia at the age of 22 was a small woman, not weighing more than 95 pounds. She was smart and daring. During her education she learned to play the piano and sing. One of her desires was flowers which became a hobby. She was accomplished at riding horses. She loved to make the horses jump fences and most the time would never open gates.
Isaac Franklin died of a stomach virus while tending to his plantations in Louisiana. After seven years of marriage his widow, Adelicia Acklen, was left with an inheritance valued at approximately $1 million that included seven cotton plantations in West Feliciana Parish,Louisiana, the two-thousand-acre Fairvue Plantation in Gallatin, Tennessee, more than 30,000 acres of undeveloped land in Matagorda Bay, Texas, stocks, bonds, and 750 slaves.
Adelicia Acklen married her second husband, Colonel Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, in May 8, 1849. They were married at her townhouse on Cherry Street. Joseph was a handsome attorney born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1816. He was also a planter and a veteran of the Texas Revolution. Huntsville was named for his maternal grandfather, John Hunt.
Joseph didn't quite sweep Adelicia off her feet; two days before they were to be married, Adelicia presented Joseph with a prenuptial agreement. It was one of the earliest prenuptial in Nashville's history. It stated that she would be sole owner and final authority over all the properties she brought into the marriage.
The couple began immediate construction of Belmont on the hilltop site that was given to her by her father as a wedding present. It was built on one of the highest hills in Nashville, and the estate was called Bellemonte, Italian for beautiful mountain.
The estate was on 180 acres outside the city limits of Nashville. It contained an art gallery, conservatories, lavish gardens, aviary, Bowling alley, lake and zoo.
Adelicia Acklen loved to throw large lavish parties and balls at her Belmont Mansion. The parties were heard about all over the nation. Every year Adelicia gave a grand ball, to which she planned the date to be on a full moon. She consulted almanacs so the events would be on full moonlit nights to let the visitors could see the mansion at its full glory. It was one of the most elaborate antebellum estate in the South.
Joseph was a superb businessman and plantation manager, who gave up his law practice to manage the family businesses, to triple his wife's fortune by 1860. During this time, the Acklen's were the wealthiest family in both Tennessee and Louisiana. The Acklen's lived a extravagant lifestyle, traveling between Belmont in the summer and their Louisiana plantations in the winter.
The couple had six children, two of whom were twin daughters, died young from scarlet fever. Joseph Acklen, a superb businessman and plantation manager, gave up his law practice to manage the family businesses. Due to his hard work and business experience, his efforts had tripled his wife's fortune by 1860.
Belmont Mansion, the home of Joseph and Adelicia Acklen, was completed in 1853. It was the Acklen summer home.
In 1859, the Acklens hired Adolphus Heiman a Prussian-born architect to remodel and expand Belmont. When he was finished, Belmont contained 36 rooms totaling 20,000 square feet.
At Belmont, the Acklen's entertained such notables as President Andrew Johnson, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, socialite Octavia La Vert, philosopher Thomas Huxley, and soldier of fortune William Walker, as well as numerous Confederate officers and political figures.
By the Civil War it contained formal gardens with statuary and gazebos, a bear house, zoo, deer park, bowling alley, and art gallery. Because Nashville didn't have a public park, Adelicia opened the property to the public.
In February 1862, Nashville became the first major Confederate city to fall to the Union army. At Adelicia's suggestion, Joseph fled to Louisiana, where he could personally oversee the plantations that were their main source of income.
Joseph Acklen died on September 11, 1863 at the Angola plantation in Louisiana at age 47,, apparently of an illness contracted following a carriage accident. According to family tradition, Joseph's carriage plunged into a bayou, forcing him to walk home in wet clothes, which led to him coming down with a fatal fever. They had been married for 14 years.
After the death of her husband, the widow Adelicia Acklen spent much of her time in New Orleans.
On Jan 1, 1864 Adelicia Acklen and her cousin Mrs. Sarah Ewing Sims Carter (later Gaut) of Franklin, Tenn. went on a 750 mile river trip. They were going from Nashville to her Angola plantation. The Southern army was treatening to burn her cotton crop to keep it from falling into the Union hands. There was almost 3,000 bales of cotton and if that was lost, she would be defaulting on some loans she had from neighbors and friends.
Adelicia Acklen hired a gunboat to take her down the Mississippi River past three southern states. It was a risky trip in the midst of war, but desperate times requires desperate measures. General Leonidas Polk, cousin of former US President James K. Polk, was issuing orders to burn her cotton. She had grown up in the same neighborhood as him and he had attended Adelicia’s wedding to Acklen.
Once they got to Angola, they were arrested for not having a travel pass. Adelicia told the person in charge she was friends with General Polk. Once this was verified, they were released. Adelicia fell ill at one point and Sarah stepped up to the task. Sarah made 8 trips to Jackson and Clinton, La. from the Angola plantation, a distance of 150 miles.
Sarah's meetings with General Polk finally came down to the discussion that if she didn't sell the crop she would default on loans used to build the Belmont Mansion. He said he didn't really care, because he had a war to run. Then she told him that she would tell all their neighbors and friends that he was the reason she defaulted on the loans. After that General Polk gave permission to send the cotton to Europe.
Learning that Federal gunboats in the area were to be inspected by Admiral David D. Porter. A meeting was set up with the Admiral to find out what can be done about shipping the cotton to New Orleans. From the meeting Admiral Porter and Captain Ramsey of the gunboat Choctaw issued a permit to take the cotton to New Orleans.
Colonel Dillon who was on General Polk's staff got permission from General Polk to store the cotton in a safe location along the Mississippi River. Confederate wagons and mules were issued to pick up the unprotected cotton from Angola plantation and deliver it to the safe location. Later the permit was exercised and a Union Gunboat picked up the cotton and delivered it to New Orleans.
In New Orleans, Adelicia managed to get her cotton on a blockade runner ship to Liverpool, England. Adelicia Acklen sold her crop to the Roth-child's of London for a reported $960,000 in gold. It was common knowledge that the price of cotton in the South dropped to nothing and that in England, cotton demand was high.
To get back home Adelicia and Sarah bought passage to New York City to get past all the fighting. From there they returned home to Nashville, Tennessee around Sept 1864.
In December 1864, the Belmont Mansion was the temporary headquarters for General Thomas Wood, Commander of the Fourth Corp of the Union army. It was occupied for two weeks before and during the battle on Dec 15 and 16, 1864.
There were Federal troops camped all around the house. The Battle of Nashville was about to begin and she was in the middle of it. The 105 foot tall brick water tower was used as a lookout point and to relay signals.
General Thomas Wood requested that Adelicia move her valuables to her friends house in Nashville. That friend was the widow of President James K. Polk. Being the widow of a President, she was treated with great respect by the Union Army.
I am sure Mrs Polk had informed the Federal Officials that Adelicia was her friend and to treat her and her house with respect. There is no documentation that says that Adelicia and her children stayed with Mrs Polk during this time, but they were very good friends. There are references that they spent time on December 15th with her.
After the battle was over, there was no damage to the house and the furnishings had been well taken care of. Some outbuildings were destroyed because of where the front lines were at. They had to be removed for a clear field of vision.
On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered and the Civil War was over. A few months later during the summer of 1865, Adelicia and her children sailed for England on a three week passage to retrieve the money made from this cotton sale.
After receiving her gold, Adelicia took her family on a European Vacation. They went to France and was presented to the court of Napoleon III. In February 1866, she was in Rome, Italy where she bought some statues for Belmont Mansion.
They were created by American Sculptors well-known American sculptors Randolph Rogers, William Rinehart, Chauncey B. Ives and Joseph Mozier. Adelicia Acklen interest in the European look was inspired on this trip. Next they traveled to Switzerland and then back to France. Later during 1866 the family boarded the ship Scotia and sailed to New York.
In New York City Adelicia Acklen found a statue called the Peri on exhibit. It was made by an American sculptor Joseph Mozier who was living and working Europe. It was her favorite statue so she placed it in the center of the Grand Salon at the Belmont Mansion.
The statue was taken from a book of poems called Lola Rookh. The name of the poem is Paradise and the Peri. It was written by Thomas Moore, where three tears are held in the right palm of the statue. They are the tears of the penitent sinner. The statue remained there until her death in 1887.
The Acklin's had been gone for a year when arriving in New York. They spent some time vacationing in Newport before returning to Nashville in 1866.
In 1867 the fifty-year-old Adelicia Acklen married Dr. William Archer Cheatham, a respected Nashville physician. Cheatham also signed a prenuptial agreement.
The wedding was held at the Belmont mansion and 2,000 people were invited. Napoleon III was on the guest list but couldn't come. Instead he sent Adelicia a gift, a diamond tiara which she wore to the reception.
After the Civil War, when many in the South found themselves bankrupt, she continued to flourish. The couple was married twenty years, spending most of their time at Belmont in Nashville.
In 1884 the Cheatham's separated and the exact cause of her separation from Cheatham is not known. In early in 1887 Adelicia sold Belmont and left Nashville. Adelicia relocated to Washington, DC. with her daughter Pauline, her last surviving daughter.
Adelicia Acklen died from pneumonia on May 4, 1887, while on a buying trip from her new home at 1776 Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. and died in New York City at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.
She was survived by one daughter, and three sons. Her body was returned to Nashville and placed in a mausoleum she had ordered built in 1884, near Confederate Circle, in Nashville's Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Section 11, Lot 1. Her first two husbands and nine of her ten children are now buried there.
The Belmont Mansion became part of Belmont College after Adelicia Acklen's death and still stands on the campus and is maintained as a house museum. It is still the second largest antebellum house still standing. The mansion is open for tours, receptions, and other functions.
Belmont Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. In 1972 the non-profit Historic Belmont Association was formed in order to restore the Mansion and later changed to the Belmont Mansion Association. Belmont Mansion was opened to the public in 1976 and charged admission.
Adelicia Acklen's son Joseph was a U.S. Representative from Louisiana (and a proponent of women's suffrage).
Adelicia Hayes Acklen is a descendant of the Hightower family. She may be found in the Hightower Family Genealogical database in the World Connect project at Rootsweb.
Angola Plantation, the land is now owned by the Angola Penitentiary.