Visiting Belle Meade Plantation {Tennessee}

This last weekend my friends were in town and we spent and we went all over Nashville seeing all the sights we could squeeze into a couple of days. We did some touristy things, we saw some historic places, and ate some classic Southern food. One of the favorite parts of the weekend was a visit to the beautiful Belle Meade Plantation.

Belle Meade Plantation is a historic site and incredible piece of Tennessee history and has endured as a prime example of southern charm and hospitality. Belle Meade means ‘Beautiful Meadow’ and that is what is all this piece of property was when it was purchased in 1807 by John Harding. This estate would see five generations of the Harding family and that legacy still lives in the walls of the estate.

While other plantations were agricultural and focused their work on cash crops such as cotton or sugar, Belle Meade was the place of racing horses. John Harding first began this in 1816 when he placed an ad in the Nashville Banner to breed his stallion. After that, this was the place where the best racing horses were bred and raised. Years later the family purchased a stallion named Bonnie Scotland who became the greatest sire to ever stand at Belle Meade with more than 2/3 of his descendants going on to be Kentucky Derby winners.

We began our tour of the mansion house at the front of the building. The mansion is a beautiful example of southern style with the tall columns across a large front porch, a row of rocking chairs inviting visitors to come and stay for awhile. The underside of the roof is painted a light blue color. This is called ‘Haint Blue’ and it was believed that it would keep away any bad spirits from the home. Over every entrance to the mansion this superstitious blue could be seen.

By the mid 1800’s, the Harding family was the wealthiest landowners in the area. That would change however with the American Civil War. Nashville was a Confederate stronghold and John Harding’s son William was on the military and finance board of the confederacy. He had donated $500,000 to the Confederate army. When the Union took over Nashville, William Harding was sent to prison and Belle Meade fell to his daughter Selene.

Belle Meade Mansion

Selene and her husband managed Belle Meade and made a number of improvements to it. They built up the house and added running water to it. Then they expanded the property adding a dairy house which produced 140 pounds of butter per week and became a second source of income after the horses.

the dairy house

We toured the mansion house and saw the lavish elegance of the Harding family. Sadly, they don’t allow for pictures within the mansion. The walls of the entry way were covered in all the horses that had made the family famous and rich. Selene Harding’s son went on to purchase a stallion named Iroquois who was the first American born horse to win the Epsom Derby in England. Iroquois was a superstar in the horse world and people paid the family a lot of money just for the opportunity to come and see him at Belle Meade. After Iroquois died, they had his hooves made into a bowl that they would sit on the table for visitors to look at.

Belle Meade entry way (photo:

The tour of the mansion told the story of the generations of Hardings who made Belle Meade what it was. But it also told the story of some of the people who worked at the plantation. In the height of wealth of the plantation, there were 136 slaves that worked at the estate. One of the slave cabins is still on the estate where they teach the other stories of those that worked here.

When the ratification of the 13th amendment went into effect the time of slavery ended. When that happened the slaves at Belle Meade were given the choice to stay on or to leave and many of them stayed on. The most notable of these was the horse handler Bob Green became the second highest paid person at the plantation and was buried with the rest of the family.

Bob Green with horse legend Bonnie Scotland (

With the fame of Iroquois, Selene’s son William saw the mansion through the highest point. With the money brought in by the horse they added on more rooms to the mansion, built an additional stable with gas lights and running water, and built a large carriage house where the many buggies and coaches were kept. The family thought that Iroquois would bring them continued prosperity for many years to come.

Just when the family thought found themselves at the height of influence, the horse Iroquois suddenly died years sooner than expected. The family insisted that the death of the beloved horse was a plot against them. But when the autoposy came back there was no sign of of foul play, only kidney failure. The family had taken on quite a bit of debt in refurbishing their home and Selene’s son went on the road trying to regain some of the influence they had enjoyed for so long. But he got sick and passed away leaving the debt to his then 2 year old son. With that, all of Belle Meade was sold to pay the debt.

That 2 year son who inherited such a legacy would go on to to work in intelligence during WWII and later be awarded by President Eisenhower for his service. When he passed away in 1971 he was buried alongside the rest of the family at Belle Meade in the family mausoleum that sits on the far corner of the estate. Belle Meade would be bought by the state of Tennessee who then turned it into the historic site it is today.

After our tour of the mansion we were directed outside to the Belle Meade winery where we were treated with a wine tasting that was included with the mansion tour admission ticket. They offered a taste of four of the plantations best wines. My favorite was the sweet red wine.

Touring the Belle Meade Plantation offered an incredible experience. It was so interesting to follow along with the different generations of the family that really put this lovely estate on the map and created a place that is still one of the most visited places in the state. So much art, sport, and history fill the mansion and being part of it for a short time was fascinating.

If you have enjoyed this tour of Belle Meade, here are some other of Nashville’s favorite places.

The Hermitage

Arrington Vineyards

The Parthenon

Thanks for coming along on a tour of the beautiful Belle Meade Plantation. May your rocking chairs be steady and your race horses be healthy.

25 responses to “Visiting Belle Meade Plantation {Tennessee}”

    • I didn’t get to try their blackberry wine- I bet that was so good! I loved the mansion tour. My friend and I kept saying how we wished we had a chandelier like the ones they had there. I bet your travel ornament Christmas tree is incredible! 🙂

    • Thank you, I always love getting together with friends. I think you would love Belle Meade with all the history and wine to enjoy. The mansion was so beautiful! Have a great weekend Marion 🙂

  1. Couple of good personal finance lessons here, including “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and don’t spend it before you have it.
    A wine tasting at the end is like icing on the cake. Nice!

    • Very true! That terrible moment when your two old son has just inherited thousands on thousands dollars of debt. But between a beautiful mansion and delicious wine it made for a great day 🙂

  2. That was a fascinating tour, Meg. Quite different to the grand houses in the UK in many ways, but familiar in others. I was picturing a piece of the Old South and could almost see Ashley Wilkes gazing benignly down…

  3. What a grand old building Meg and of course I just love the history, which has real meat on its bones. Boo to the no photography rule inside, I wonder why they would be so strict? Anyway, the grounds look lovely and I really dig a huge southern style porch like that one, no wonder you took the photo opportunity. Amazing to hear how the family had success with horses beyond America on my side of the pond. In the end though, as is often the case, their family empire came crashing down. It could be an Orson Welles movie! Great article, Meg.

    • Thanks Leighton 🙂 I echo your boo to no pictures inside because the inside was stunning to behold. So packed full of that 1800s glamour of a high brow estate. It was an interesting and sad history of the ebb and flow of wealth in one family. But rocking on the porch was definitely a highlight.

    • I thought that too- what a gross conversation piece when you are entertaining guests. But I guess if the horse is the essence of the estate then showing it off any way possible keeps it top of mind. Thank you for reading 🙂

  4. The Belle Meade Plantation looks beautiful. It’s neat how the estate stayed in the same family for five generations and that the state of Tennessee turned it into a historic site to preserve its history. I love that there’s even a winery and wine tasting that was included with your admission ticket for the mansion tour!

    • It was a really interesting look at one family and how the estate changed with them. But I am glad that the state finally purchased it so it wasn’t turned down. And the wine tasting was a great addition to the tour! 🙂

    • Oh I think you would love it! The place just overflows with charm and history. And the addition of a wine tasting with the tour is just the cherry on top. You’ll just have to come back to Tennessee and I’ll take you to all the places you didn’t see last time 🙂

  5. Great interesting post Meg, I love hearing historical stories like these that you wouldn’t necessarily hear about. I bet that house was something else
    Sorry for late comment just going through unread emails 🙄

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