Nashville, Tennessee has become one of the south’s biggest draws in recent years with a variety of historic attractions to visit and one on top of many family lists is the Belle Meade Plantation.
Belle Meade Plantation is the type of destination that has something to appeal to all of us. Whether it’s the beauty of the architecture, the lay of the land, the history, or even the gift shop, Belle Meade is a crowd pleaser. Kids will especially enjoy learning about the history of the children who grew up in this plantation and how different (or not so different) kids' lives are today.
Located on 30 acres 6 miles west of Nashville, the Plantation once encompassed 5,400 acres and was the home to several families, many winning race horses, survived the Civil War and has its share of both happy and not-so-happy endings.
Start your tour with a look around the gift shop, which features a wide selection of books-including a good sampling of children's books, prints, and local arts and food. Pick up a Belle Meade Plantation Honey Jelly-a great for gift for teachers and house-sitters, and take in the monthly art show.
Dining is relaxing at The Harding House Restaurant, the southern inspired restaurant on the property and everyone will delight in topping off the meal with their house made bread pudding. Children's menu items available.
In 1807, John Harding started the farm when he purchased 250 acres. He had a keen interest in Thoroughbred horses and started by boarding stallions for others. That love of horses continued through many generations and the most famous horse came years later, Bonnie Scotland (1853-1880). William Giles Harding acquired him in 1872 and he became a popular stud-his descendents are still racing today and have included: Northern Dancer, Sunday Silence and Triple Crown winner, Secretariat.
Iroquois was another famous horse purchased in 1886. He was the first American horse to win the English Derby (1881). Many other famous horses trace their roots to this plantation (including Smarty Jones, Seabisquit and Barbaro) and you can learn more about this on the mansion tour and in the stables.
The mansion and grounds:
The mansion was built in 1853 and today it has been restored to its late 19th century splendor. Period furnishings, fixtures and family portraits tell the tale of the lives lived and lost within these walls. Costumed interpreters take you through the two floors of the mansion and you will hear the stories of four generations of the Harding and Jackson families who resided at Belle Meade. The girls on our tour were amazed at the bulky dresses worn in this era and wondered how anyone survived the summer without air conditioning.
The timed tours last approximately one hour and you’ll leave with a real sense of how these families lived, of their highs and lows and, finally, how the property came to be a popular destination for tourists, locals and school groups today.
The grounds feature several buildings in addition to the mansion. The stables and carriage house were a treat with numerous carriages on display as well as historical facts about the number of famous horses who are connected to this property, an original 1790s log cabin, a slave cabin, the dairy and several other buildings-including the now empty family crypt.
Gardens and green spaces are in abundance and you can really get the sense of what life was like during the Plantation’s heyday.
For the grown-ups:
The Winery at Belle Meade Plantation is just over a year old, but wine-making has been part of the Plantation for over 150 years. Muscadine grapes still grow wild throughout the property today. Wine tasting is including in the tour price and there are several to try, all from grapes grown nearby. Gifts and art are also available to purchase.
Another “can’t miss” location affords an excellent opportunity to walk through history: The Hermitage.
Home to President Andrew Jackson and his family, today you can visit this plantation and tour the mansion, grounds, gardens , restaurant and museum. Additionally, there is a terrific gift shop on the premises with a wide-range of books, gifts and local culinary treats.
Barely a teen:
When the nation was young, an even younger Andrew Jackson journeyed to a Revolutionary battlefield (at age 13) and later served two terms in the White House as America’s seventh president. In between, he became a lawyer, a war hero, a husband, a father, a landowner and a contentious figure at times. All of this is explored through an in-depth audio tour, film and galleries dedicated to the president who gained the nickname “Old Hickory”, courtesy of his troops who admired his iron will.
He was also a controversial figure, this too is explored at The Hermitage. From his marriage to Rachel Donelson to the Indian removal order that continues to be a sad chapter in our nation’s history and issues revolving around this continue to this day.
Nashville was growing during Jackson’s time at the Hermitage and the plantation had grown to 1,000 acres of gardens, buildings and cotton crop by 1845. Just forty one years earlier, this was a 425-acre frontier farm.
With Jackson’s growing importance as a soldier statesman, the humble cabins the family lived in soon were simply too small to entertain a growing number of visitors from all walks of life. The mansion with its classical design was soon added and became a showplace as well as the family domicile for the Jacksons and the many children who called The Hermitage home. Though they did not have any biological children of their own, the Jacksons adopted and opened their home to many.
He and his wife Rachel, were by all accounts, deeply in love. When she died just days before his first inauguration, President Jackson was heartbroken. In her memory, he lovingly had a Greek inspired garden tomb built for her that he visited daily once his presidential days had passed. He joined her there upon his death (in the mansion) in 1845. You can visit Rachel’s Garden and the graves of the President, Mrs. Jackson and many family members as part of the tour.
Stepping inside the museum, artifacts are on display and timelines carefully explain what was happening at The Hermitage as well as in the rest of the country. Here they dig deeper into the Jackson and other families of the enslaved workers who called this plantation home. History is an open book here, the good and the bad are explored. What you walk away with is greater knowledge of the man, the era and how rapidly a young America was changing.
Catch a concert?
Walk through musical history at the Ryman Auditorium. Located downtown, the Ryman has been hosting performances since 1892 and some names you might not expect has graced this stage including: Sarah Bernhardt, Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan Macy and Charlie Chaplin. The Ryman is a National Historic Landmark and is most famous as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974. Originally the home of the Union Gospel
Tabernacle, the Ryman remains a vibrant and popular destination today.
You can still catch a performance or take the self-guided or backstage tour-where you’ll get a chance to stand where so many have stood awaiting their moment in the spotlight.
This is just a sampling of all there is to do in Nashville, whether your kids are history buffs, country music fans or just hanging out, Nashville never disappoints.
Belle Meade Plantation, 5025 Harding Pike, 615-346-0501. Admission charged. www.bellemeadeplantation.com
For more information about visiting The Hermitage or for an excellent primer in the life and legacy of President Andrew Jackson, visit www.thehermitage.com Admission charged. 4580 Rachel’s Lane. 615-889-2941.
Ryman Auditorium. 116 Fifth Ave. N., 615-889-3060. Admission charged.
For more information about planning your trip to Nashville, visit www.visitmusiccity.com
Nashville is an easy drive from Cincinnati via I-71 to Louisville and I-65 to Nashville.