History. Horses. Hospitality. Belle Meade Plantation is the epitome of gracious Tennessee plantations and well worth a visit when in Nashville. Originally founded by John Harding in 1807 with only a “traveler’s rest” log cabin and 250 acres of land, Belle Meade Plantation grew into a beautiful Greek Revival Mansion reigning over one of the largest thoroughbred horse farms in the south covering 5,400 acres.
Having come from Virginia, the gentleman Harding had an interest in horses and was quite the entrepreneur. First he boarded stallions, and then offered stud services on his farm. He was very wealthy and in 1820 commissioned a sprawling brick home and named the estate Belle Meade, meaning “beautiful meadow.” He became interested in racing horses and in 1823 registered his own racing silks with the Nashville Jockey Club. The original silks are some of the oldest surviving in the sport and are on display in the mansion.
The plantation gained the reputation of being the premier horse farm in the south, raising, selling and shipping stock throughout the country. In fact, Belle Meade was so influential in thoroughbred breeding that famous horses like Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Barbarro, and every horse to race in the Kentucky Derby since 2003 can trace their bloodlines directly back to Belle Meade!
With that level of notoriety, the 10,000 square foot Belle Meade mansion became the epicenter of society and social events where hundreds of people at a time were hosted, wined and dined. Today, guides in period costumes lead 45-minute tours of the impeccably restored mansion to offer visitors a taste of the opulent lifestyle of the past.
The tour concludes with a complimentary wine tasting of the award-winning wines produced by Belle Meade. The Tennessee red and white wines are made from the traditional southern grape, the Muscadine, and blackberry fruit, so they tend to be on the sweet side. The gift shop in the winery has the wines available for purchase, as well as many wine-related novelties and handmade chocolates.
There are also 10 outbuildings on the grounds that you can explore at your leisure, including the original 1807 log cabin, a two-room slave cabin (circa 1830) containing an exhibit, a children’s playhouse (circa 1870), the dairy (1884) that produced up to 240 pounds of butter each week, and the smokehouse (circa 1826) where as much as 20,000 pounds of pork were smoked in a year to provide for the extraordinary hospitality of the estate.
The enormous carriage house and stables (1892) showcases a most impressive carriage collection. The Harding family had light carriages for picnics on the expansive grounds, a surrey with fringe on top for trips to town, luxury Victorian carriages for high-end social events, and even a 16-passenger double-decker optimal for parade viewing above the crowds. The Hardings were definitely luxury travelers for their time!
Belle Meade Plantation is in Nashville, just 15 minutes from the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium and the Honey Tonks of downtown. Plan to spend a couple hours enjoying the ambiance of the mansion and grounds then repair to the elegant Harding House Restaurant, a local favorite for lunch.
For more information and travel arrangements to Nashville, contact the vacation planning experts at Covington Travel.
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