Belle Meade Plantation
The mansion at the former Belle Meade Plantation is the centerpiece of present-day Belle Meade Plantation and one of the finest old homes in Nashville. Its name means “beautiful pasture,” and indeed it was Belle Meade’s pastures that gave rise to the plantation’s fame as the home of a superb stock of horses. Purchased as 250 acres in 1807 by Virginia farmer John Harding and his wife, Susannah, the estate grew to 5,400 acres at its peak in the 1880s and 1890s.
Belle Meade was never a cotton plantation, although small amounts of the cash crop were grown here, along with fruits, vegetables, and tobacco. Instead it was the horses, including the racehorse Iroquois, that made Belle Meade famous.
The mansion was built in 1820 and expanded in 1853. Its grand rooms are furnished with period antiques, more than 60 percent of which are original to the house. The estate also includes outbuildings, including a smokehouse, dairy, and the original log cabin that Harding built for his family when they moved to Belle Meade in 1807.
The plantation also includes a slave cabin, which houses an exhibit on Belle Meade’s enslaved population, which numbered more than 160 at its peak. Two of these slaves are described in detail. Susanna Carter was the mansion’s housekeeper for more than 30 years, and remained with the family even after the end of slavery.
On her deathbed, Selena Jackson, the mistress of Belle Meade for many years, called Susanna “one of the most faithful and trusted of my friends.” The other African American who features prominently at the museum is Bob Green, whose skill and experience as a hostler earned him one of the highest salaries ever paid to a horse hand of the day.
Visitors to Belle Meade are given a one-hour guided tour of the mansion and then visit the outbuildings and grounds on their own.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition