Belmont Mansion Accepts Gift Of Nearly 200 Artifacts From Antebellum Owner

Belmont Mansion Accepts Gift Of Nearly 200 Artifacts From Antebellum Owner

Belmont Mansion director Mark Brown stands with one of his favorite selections from the donation: the so-called widow's china that Acklen bought during the period between her second husband's death and her third marriage. The portrait is of her son, Claude Acklen, one of only four children who survived to adulthood. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN
Belmont Mansion director Mark Brown stands with one of his favorite selections from the donation: the so-called widow’s china that Acklen bought during the period between her second husband’s death and her third marriage. The portrait is of her son, Claude Acklen, one of only four children who survived to adulthood. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

More than a century after her death, some of Adelicia Acklen’s most personal possessions are returning to Nashville’s Belmont Mansion: family portraits that hung in the most private rooms of the house, the jewelry box she would have used each day, even toothbrush cases made of fine china.

image via belmontmansion.com
Not only did Acklen maintain control of her husband’s cotton business when he died, but she managed to talk both Union and Confederate officers into helping her with a million dollar sale of cotton to English merchants during the height of the Civil War. image via belmontmansion.com

Grandeur And Loss

Through much of the 19th century, Acklen was considered to be the richest woman in the South. She inherited several large cotton plantations when her first husband died. Then in a move quite unusual for the time, retained ownership and control of them after remarrying.

She was also a woman who experienced great loss: Before her fiftieth birthday she buried a fiancee, two husbands, six children and a younger sister.

The collection of nearly 200 items donated by the widow of her great-grandson, Franck Kaisar, seems to round out Acklen’s larger-than-life image. The woman who lost most of her young children to illness had a definite fondness for figurines of babies and youth.

After the death of her husbands she changed out the china and crystal, each set more pink and ornate than the last.

Significantly Closer To Original

Each of the donated items will be placed as close as possible to where it would have been in Acklen’s day. (It helps that newspapers wrote about her home and its contents and that Acklen once invited a photographer to take pictures inside the house.)

Adelicia Aklen's restored bedroom exemplifies the extravagance found throughout Belmont's interior at the time. Aklen hung paintings on the wall of her deceased children and the estate she shared with her recently deceased first husband. Image via belmontmansion.com
Adelicia Acklen’s restored bedroom exemplifies the extravagance found throughout Belmont’s interior at the time. Aklen hung paintings on the wall of her deceased children and the estate she shared with her recently deceased first husband. Image via belmontmansion.com

Once they are in place, Belmont Mansion director Mark Brown says roughly 40% of the furniture, trinkets, portraits and decorative items in the house will be original to Adelicia Acklen herself.

An exhibit of highlights from the donated collection will be included as part of the mansion’s tours for eight days, beginning Saturday, May 17.

Photo Gallery Of Some Of The Recently Gifted Items:

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For Generations, Just One Surviving Heir

Franck Kaiser’s inheritance is essentially the one great trove of items that stayed in Adelicia Acklen’s family. When she died in 1887, most of her belongings were sold at an estate sale.

Her three surviving sons kept little or nothing from their mother’s possessions, but her daughter, Pauline, inherited a house Adelicia was building in Washington, DC. She essentially started that household with these items from Belmont.

Only one of Pauline’s children lived to adulthood, a daughter who was also named Pauline. Franck Kaisar is her son. Although Franck did have a sister, she died at a young age, meaning once again Adelicia Acklen’s possessions were passed on to a single person. Franck passed away in 2000.

Nina Cardona

Nina Cardona is WPLN's host for All Things Considered. As a reporter, she covers a wide range of assignments with an emphasis on culture, the arts and local history. A graduate of Converse College, she's lived in Middle Tennessee most of her life.
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