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:

Most Bohemian glass vases of the time were about six inches tall. This one was nearly three times larger. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNAt the time of Acklen's first marriage, bowls of fruit were the fashionable dinner table centerpieces. This bowl was designed so that ice chips could be placed around the fruit; the melt off drained into a vessel below the bowl. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNAdelicia's second set of china was bought at the time of her second marriage, to attorney Joseph Acklen. A third marriage meant she bore the last name Cheatham for the last two decades of her life. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNAcklen was drawn to classical statuary; a Peri sculpture of an angel that stood in the mansion's entry was later moved to her mausoleum. These figures are made of Parian ware, a cutting edge technology of the time that produced high-quality cast objects that look and feel like marble. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNThis bisque figurine of a child asleep in a highchair was made and sold in Paris, which indicates Acklen likely picked it up in the late 1860s during a grand tour of Europe that the widow Acklen took with four young children in tow. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNThis small chest belonged to Acklen's daughter, Pauline, who is shown in the portrait above it, and was used during the family's European tour. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNBrown says this painted bronze would have been part of a pair of busts. This crying baby is 'grief,' while a happy one likely portrayed 'mirth.' Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNThe two covered vessels in the foreground would have held items on her dressing table; the long one is specifically designed for a toothbrush. The container in the back is her jewelry box. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNAcklen's jewelry box  is not particularly large, but it is made of opulent materials. The dark portions of the exterior are sharkskin, all of the hardware, including the hinges, is gilded, and the interior is lined in silk. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNThe small bottles held perfume on Acklen's dressing table. The china box in the back is a toothbrush holder. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNA wide variety of glassware and china was passed down to Acklen's family. The amber carafe of heavy glass most likely belonged to her first husband, Issac Franklin. The much more delicate  items were purchased when there was no man of the house. Credit: Nina Cardona Photographs of the mansion during Acklen's lifetime show that this statue, 'Hope,' stood in the library. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

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.

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