The Mansion: A Classical Mix of Styles
General William G. Harding, owner of Belle Meade Plantation, enjoyed a penchant for architecture and design and typically chose the latest trends in building design for his beloved plantation.
The Original House
The mansion began life as a two story Federal style home, constructed by John Harding in the 1820s. The building originally consisted of red bricks on a limestone foundation, was two-stories in height, and was one room deep. The house was flanked by two one-story “hyphens,” or wings. Years later in the 1840s, William Giles Harding made additions to the plantation house, which updated the style of the building to Greek-Revival.
From House to Mansion
The designer of the mansion is unknown. As was custom at the time, it is possible that a floor-plan was created and drawn by Williams Giles Harding and the architectural details, such as the stone detailing, trim and mantlepiece details of the home, were created from specifications published in one of many construction pattern books available at the time.
Records show that Williams Giles Harding was adept in the profession of engineering and could easily grasp the concept of architectural design. The once simple, but refined, country home was stripped to its basic structure and Harding began the process of erecting his residential masterpiece.
Today, the mansion stands testament to the high-style Greek-Revival design drafted by its creator, standing sentry over the evolving plantation it has guarded for generations.
Interior & Exterior Design
Harding’s plan for the mansion favors symmetry and formal social customs in design. The double-pile, five-bay mansion building possesses double parlors to the north and a library and dining room separated by a transept hall to the south. Running the width of the building from east to west and following the seasonal wind directions for natural cooling, the central hallway at Belle Meade mansion traverses three floors with ceiling heights of fourteen (14′) feet on the first two floors, and eight feet (8′) on the third. A circular cantilevered staircase carved from cherry in the second empire style, spirals to the third floor.
Palladian wall niches, originally used for holding lamps for lighting the staircase at night, are set into the mansion’s transept hall. This connects the central hall to the servant staircase and kitchen extension, which was used by servants to navigate the lower floor without disturbing dinners in the formal dining room. The second floor contains two connected bedrooms to the north and a guest bedroom and master bedroom to the south.
These bedrooms are separated by a transept hallway that connects the central hall to the servants staircase and the kitchen extension. The third floor contains the landing for the staircase and is flanked by a single room on the north and south sides.
The facade features a composite stylobate base in solid limestone blocks. Six (6) solid cut stone pillars in limestone are evenly spaced over the base. The columns of the mansion are composite in style, but are primarily figured in the Doric order. The echinus of the column is figured in the Egg & Dart pattern. A solid limestone pedimented entablature is set above the columns below. At the ends of the pediment and entablature, acroterion with anthemion in the palmette pattern are underscored by volutes sitting upon the portico crest and flanking the mansion’s portico. The facade features a grained door with a sterling silver doorknob. Above the door, a transom is fitted with ruby glass.