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One of the wealthiest women of the antebellum South and owner of Belmont Estate, Adelicia Acklen was born in 1817. Her father was a prominent Nashville lawyer, businessman and cousin to President Rutherford B. Hayes. At age twenty-two she married Issac Franklin, a wealthy cotton planter and slave trader, who was twenty-eight years her senior. After seven years of marriage, he died leaving his widow an inheritance valued at $1million.
Three years after Franklin's death, Adelicia married Joseph Acklen, a lawyer from Alabama, who signed a marriage contract, forsaking control of all her businesses, property, and assets. Acklen, a superb businessman and plantation manager, tripled his wife's fortune by 1860.
The couple began immediate construction of Belmont Mansion, a nineteen-thousand square-foot villa, now maintained as a house museum. The Acklens lived a sumptuous lifestyle. The Belmont estate included a zoo, aviary, water tower, gas refinery, bath house, bowling alley, conservatory, a lake and elaborate gardens. The public was allowed to visit the property every day but Sundays.
When Acklen died during the Civil War, Adelicia faced financial ruin when the Confederate army threatened to burn her cotton to keep it from Union possession. Adelicia boldly rushed and secretly negotiated with both sides to save her fortune. She secured Confederate promises not to burn her cotton, while the Union army agreed to help her move the cotton to be shipped overseas. Adelicia sold her cotton to the Rothschild's of London for a reported $960,000 in gold.
After the Civil War, Adelicia married Dr. Cheatham, a respected Nashville physician. Cheatham also signed a marriage contract. The couple were married twenty years. In 1886 Adelicia sold Belmont, left Nashville and Cheatham, and moved to Washington, D.C. She died on May 4, 1887. Her spirit and legacy live on today at Belmont Mansion. Over 25,000 people from all over the globe come to visit Adelicia's magnificent home each year to experience American history. Belmont Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Belmont Mansion Association, a private, not-for-profit historic preservation society, administers the restoration and operation of the mansion, and is funded by rental events, admissions, and fundraising activities.
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