Adelicia was born in Nashville in 1817, the daughter of Sarah Clements (Hightower) Hayes and the lawyer Oliver Bliss Hayes. In 1839 she had married Isaac Franklin (1789-1846), a slave trader and plantation owner from Sumner County, Tennessee. After seven years of marriage and four children (none of whom survived childhood) he also died, leaving an estate worth over $900,000, including seven Louisiana cotton plantations, a two-thousand-acre farm in middle Tennessee, and 750 slaves. In 1849 Adelicia married Joseph A. S. Acklen (1816-1863), and, with her monthly income, designed and produced the 177-acre estate with ample gardens, greenhouses, an art gallery, a bowling alley, and a zoo (which Adelicia opened to Nashville residents). White clam shell paths and drives filled the spaces between colorful geometric planting beds. A small working farm was attached to Belmont, completed in 1853, but that provided only foodstuffs for the family and their domestic staff. The Acklens hired an architect to remodel and expand the estate in 1859; the final layout contained thirty-six rooms, ten thousand square feet of living area, and an additional 8,400 square feet of service space in the basement. During the Civil War, the mansion served as a regional headquarters for the Union Army, and later was the campus of an all-girls college and seminary. It is now part of the campus of the private, Christian, coeducational, liberal arts Belmont University, and is a popular spot for weddings and other special events.
A variety of tour options are available. A standard individual (no minimum number of guests) or group (15 or more people) tour is docent-led and lasts approximately and hour. Specialty tours include: the Curator's Tour (the story of Adelicia Acklen and her estate in detail, led by the curator of collections); the Art Tour (a focus on the Acklens's extensive art collection, led by the curator of collections); Gardens and Grounds Tour (a look at the estate gardens, statuary, and gazebos, led every Saturday by historic gardening experts); Lasting Impression Tour (geared toward re-creating scenes and conversations from Tamara Alexander's novel A Lasting Impression, which was set at Belmont Mansion). Tours can also be tailored for K-12 educational needs.