John Harding founded Belle Meade Plantation in 1807. From his initial 250-acre purchase on the “Old Natchez Road,” seven miles from Nashville, Harding built Belle Meade into a twelve-hundred-acre plantation. During the three decades of his management, Harding sold blacksmith services, farm products, and dressed lumber and established an important stud farm.
Harding’s son, William G. Harding, a college-educated general in the state militia, managed Belle Meade from 1839 until 1883. By the 1850s he was one of Tennessee’s wealthiest men and larger landowners. In 1854 William Harding greatly enlarged his home into a Greek Revival showplace. During the Civil War Federal authorities arrested Harding, a Confederate supporter, and imprisoned him for six months. During his incarceration his wife, Elizabeth McGavock Harding, managed Belle Meade and looked after her “family of 150 persons,” mostly slaves.
Belle Meade’s greatest fame came after the Civil War, when it developed into one of the best-known thoroughbred breeding farms in the world. Iroquois and Bonnie Scotland were the stud’s most famous stallions. Credit for the postwar renaissance goes both to Harding and his colorful son-in-law, ex-Confederate Brigadier General William Hicks Jackson.
Soon after Jackson’s death in 1903, Belle Meade passed out of the Harding-Jackson family. In 1953 the State of Tennessee purchased the house and twenty-four acres and deeded the property to the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, which maintains the property as a historic site.