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Belmont Mansion was built on 180 acres in 1853 to be the summer home of Joseph and Adelicia Acklen. In 1856 the house was enlarged, and in 1859-1860 the back gallery was enclosed to create the Grand Salon. The remodeling architect, and possibly the original architect, was Adolphus Heiman. After this addition, the house was approximately 19,000 square feet of living and service space built in the Italian Villa style based on the work of Andrea Palladio. The Acklen family lived in the house until Adelicia sold it in 1887. In 1890, Belmont College for Young Women opened on 15 acres of the original site and built a large addition on the back of the main house. At this time, the bedrooms and formal dining room were divided into offices and dormitories; and in 1905 and 1908 a building was added to either side of the mansion. In 1913, Belmont College merged with Ward Seminary for Women, which had been operating in downtown Nashville since 1865. Ward-Belmont continued as a prep school and junior college operating until 1951. At that time the Tennessee Baptist Convention purchased the property and it became Belmont College, a four-year co-education institution. The schools heavily used the house until the early 1970s.
The college had difficulty maintaining the house, especially the upstairs and roof, and in 1972 the Belmont Mansion Association was formed to preserve and restore the house. Restoration is ongoing (2004), with 17 rooms now open for tours. At this time 30% of the furniture and 50% of the paintings and statuary collections are original. Several restoration projects have occurred on the exterior of the mansion as well, first in 1973 and later in 1989. Currently, a fundraising campaign is beginning for a complete restoration of the exterior.
Belmont Mansion is one of the few antebellum Italian villa-style houses remaining and the second largest antebellum house still standing in the South. It is also one of the few examples of a pre-war suburban estate remaining in the United States, and it is one of the few buildings remaining that were designed by Adolphus Heiman, an important architect in the upper South. The Grand Salon is the most elaborate domestic interior remaining in pre-Civil War Tennessee and an excellent early example of the romantic architecture that would be used in the United States during the last half of the 19th century. During the Civil War, before the Battle of Nashville, it was the headquarters for Union General Thomas Wood. One of the central stories associated with the mansion concerns Adelicia Acklen, who, left to her own resources, persevered through the Civil War and Reconstruction and built the first major private art collection in Tennessee. Belmont Mansion was also the boyhood home of both Joseph H. Acklen, United States Game Warden under President Woodrow Wilson, and legal council for the women's suffrage movement in Tennessee; and William Ackland (formerly Acklen), who endowed the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.