After 40 years of planning and four years of labor, the Belmont Mansion has opened the restored master bedroom suite where Adelicia Acklen rested and stored clothes as well as where her children studied.
The mansion hosted a grand opening Friday morning with Executive Director Mark Brown (’77) answering questions on the restoration project. Renasant Bank is sponsoring a free open house with cake, storytelling and children’s craft at the mansion from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday to celebrate Adelicia Acklen’s 196th birthday and the major restoration of Adelicia’s bedroom suite.
To return the suite to its original condition, workers reproduced faux wood grain, installed silver plating on door knobs and purchased drape trims, lace curtains and upholstery. Hand-woven carpet for Acklen’s bedroom was imported from England. Brown also spent the last few months searching for a free-standing towel rack, a school table for the School Room and another mid-19th century wall map, as the inventory listed two old maps.
The bedroom’s original furniture was returned to the bedroom suite. The high Victorian furniture was auctioned off when Acklen sold the residence in 1887 and stayed within 15 miles of campus for more than a century before Nashvillians Margaret Smith Warner and Overton T. Smith donated the pieces to the mansion.
“The wall papers were probably the most challenging project because it was impossible to reproduce with more traditional methods like silk screening,” Brown said.
The original 2,025 wood blocks used to print the French scenic papers depicting a panorama of Telemachus in search of Ulysses in the 1850s have since been destroyed. Brown located similar wallpaper in “pristine condition” at The Hermitage and hired a photographer to take 250 detailed pictures of its panels at varying heights. It took nine months for the photographer to correct lens curvatures and digitally piece the photos together. A local printer reproduced the wall paper on 8-foot-long paper reams. Brown also located in a German museum a partial fragment of the Dado paper beneath the scenic wallpaper, which a local artist used along with two fragments of the decorative paper still in the house to recreate the design.
“It was important to restore the master bedroom because it provided an interesting insight into Adelicia, that she choose a children’s paper for her bedroom. The school room is a dynamic story in the 19th century of a live-in tutor that was used until a child was old enough for boarding school. And we can’t find another 19th century space with a trunk room,” Brown said. “An incredible number of people have come together to work on this project.”
On display in the trunk room, which was used as a storage space, is Aklen’s traveling jewelry case as well as two trunks that belonged to her nephew.
Covered by gifts from private donors and foundations, the bedroom suite restoration project totaled just over $250,000, said Brown, who is also a Belmont alumnus (’77).
Listed on the national register of historic landmarks in 1971, the 155-year-old Belmont Mansion is the architectural centerpiece of the campus. The summer home of Adelicia and Joseph Acklen became the Ward-Belmont School in 1890 with the master bedroom divided into dorm rooms. Today the mansion is maintained as a historical museum, and the grounds that once contained an art gallery, conservatories, lavish gardens, aviary, lake and zoo have become Belmont University’s campus.