Belle Meade Plantation is one of the premier places to visit in the Nashville area. Both residents and travelers to Tennessee appreciate the historical significance of this famed plantation. Many credit the original owner, John Harding, with being seminal to the development of horse breeding and racing in the Tennessee area. The main house on the plantation was originally built in Greek revival style (circa 1807). Many additions were made over the years until the house became the sprawling structure it is today.
During the pre-Civil War years, the plantation was home to a large population of African-American slaves. In fact, the Harding family reportedly owned more slaves than any other family in Tennessee. Domestic servants and skilled laborers were housed in whitewashed, rustic cabins near the main mansion. Field laborers were housed further out in even less amenable quarters. After the Civil War, many of the former slaves moved off the plantation but many stayed. In fact, some descendents of the original slaves still inhabited the plantation when the Harding family was forced to sell it during an economic downturn in 1906.
Many children from local elementary and middle schools tour the plantation each year. It is an especially popular school tour and an important one, too. It demonstrates the plantation culture that once dominated Tennessee and the rest of the south. One of the children’s tours emphasizes the Harding family’s involvement in the Civil War and its aftermath. The children tour the mansion and the grounds and then participate in a scavenger hunt that emphasizes map reading, teamwork and applying logic to solve problems. Kids love scavenger hunts, so they have fun while they’re learning.
Another tour that is available to both students and other visitors emphasizes how the slaves lived on the plantation. During the tour, guests view the interior of the mansion and the surrounding grounds. They learn how the slaves lived, dressed, and what kind of jobs they had. The cultural traditions of the slave population are also emphasized. After the tour, guests participate in a “Journey to Freedom” game. They follow a well-worn path to freedom and pretend they are part of the Underground Railroad.
In addition to the variety of tours that are available at Belle Meade, there are also special events that take place annually. This year, there will be a Kentucky Derby Party that will occur on May 5, 2012. There will also be a Community Trick or Treat near Halloween and a candlelight Christmas event in the middle of December. Especially anticipated is a Civil War Weekend, which also takes place in December. And if you’re going to the Kentucky Derby, check out the gift shop. There are probably more ladies’ “Derby hats” than there are in the State of Kentucky!
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