John Harding purchased the 200 acres of land in 1806 and began farming it. At one time or another, there was a cotton gin, a grist mill, a saw mill and hunting grounds. But John's son William Giles Harding was interested in breeding and racing horses. From then on, Belle Meade wasn't just another plantation. But a famous plantation for breeding thoroughbred race horses. It was said that William Harding's collection of silver racing trophies was the largest in the world.
One of their most famous horses, other than Bonnie Scotland, was Iroquois, who was the first thoroughbred horse bred in America to win the Epson derby in England. Not a small feat as the horse had to be shipped to England by boat, actually get used to the time change and learn to run in the opposite direction. Iroquois was such a star that he was hired out for breeding at $2500 a shot - which was alot of money then - with no guarantees.
The family fell on some hard times - there was a weakened economy and several health problems for family members - and they fell into debt. Selling off the plantation piece by piece, it fell into a state of disrepair. In fact, there are only a few acres left today as the suburbs of Nashville have grown all around it. Finally in 1953 the plantation was purchased by the State of Tennessee.
Today you can visit Belle Meade. You can see the horse stables, carriage house, some of the slave quarters, a log cabin and take a fascinating tour of the Greek Revival style house. In each room, a costumed guide will give you a little history of the house and the family who lived there. (Incredibly, they have recovered much of the original furniture and artifacts - which had been sold or given away - through ebay, newspaper ads, detective work and word of mouth.)There are group tours, segway tours and summer camps available also.
Along with the tour you can also do a wine tasting of Belle Meade wines - one of their primary money makers now along with weddings and events - and become a member of their wine club. (The grapes are grown about 45 miles south of the plantation) You can eat lunch or brunch at the Harding House restaurant which also caters all events at Belle Meade.
I so enjoyed my visit to Belle Meade. The family history along with learning about the thoroughbred lineage here was so interesting. My tour group included a family with a young daughter who loves horses, a family who happened upon it on vacation, two couples who came for the wine tasting and me. A little something for everyone. If you're the least bit interested in horse racing or breeding or history and you get a chance to visit Belle Meade, do it. You'll enjoy it.
This post is part of a link-up with: Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!