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A dive into Belmont’s historic landmarks

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Belmont's infamous birdcage originally served as an aviary for Joseph and Adelicia Acklen's personal zoo. Ceirra Burdyck/Belmont Vision

A pit of alligators, a water tower and the desolation of Blanton Hall are just a few things that have helped shape the history of Belmont University. The campus we all know today originally consisted of just the Belmont Mansion. Built by the Acklen family in 1853 as a summer home, the property was later purchased by Ida Hood and Susan Heron. The two developed the land into Belmont Women’s College in 1890. The school later merged with Ward Seminary in 1913, forming Ward-Belmont and would eventually become Belmont College and Belmont University, as it is known today. Mark Brown, former executive director of the Belmont Mansion, offers his immense knowledge of the university’s history. “In the summer of 1853, they started developing the grounds at that point. They did two additions on the house before 1860. They also erected the water tower around 1857. The center gazebo was built in the center of the campus in 1853, and the rest of gazebos on the campus were all 1867,” Brown said. Belmont Women’s College began development in 1890 by Hood and Heron after purchasing the first 13 acres of the school now known as the North Lawn. Belmont Mansion director of operations and social media Lauren Batte pointed to this original purchase as an integral part to the early development of both the university and the surrounding area alike. “When the developer purchased the entire Belmont estate from the Acklen family, he sold 13 acres to Ms. Heron and Ms. Hood,” she said. “The rest of the property he kept and whatever was left at that point, he raised and then developed into a neighborhood. This was one of the earliest neighborhoods in Nashville.” Back then, Belmont’s signature bell tower served a completely different function than it does today. “Oh, the bell tower was built originally as a water tower by the Acklen family. And it was also built as an observation tower as well, but mainly its function was as a water tower,” Brown said. “And that would provide a primitive irrigation system for the grounds, but also water pressure to run the fountains on the estate green house in the house itself.” In the early 1970s, a central part of campus was hit with the financial burden of Blanton Hall burning to the ground. “On December 31, 1972, Blanton Hall burned down taking with it almost every academic department except for about three on campus,” Brown said. “So they replaced Blanton Hall with a pair of buildings on either side of that center courtyard area.” The student body took time to grow and develop after the tragic occurrence as Belmont functioned on a deficit. “During that time the student body may had been 900. I bet it was right at 900 students. And so that just wasn't enough money to bring in all of these buildings that are here now,” Brown said. Another historical location with a unique history, the birdcage held different vocalists than the ones today. “That originally was an aviary and it’s not in its original location, there would have been other smaller cages within the cage of the aviary,” Brown said. The aviary came about as a result of Acklen’s personal zoo built on Belmont's campus. “The zoo was likely the idea of Adelicia’s second husband Joseph Acklen,” Brown said. “Besides the bears that were there and the birds, there were also mountain lions. And there were alligators down where the university store is now.” Freeman Hall, a location known for being the first look of Belmont, also originally held a different purpose. “That's where one of the first radio broadcasts came out of,” Brown said. “Ward-Belmont had their own radio station, they were broadcasting concerts. The station was a clear channel station, meaning it would broadcast all the way to Texas.” Next time you are walking past Belmont’s signature bell tower, the lively bird cage or the mansion, take a second to remember its history and how each of these places came to be. This article was written by Braden Simmons

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