Cheekwood Estate and Gardens: Belle Meade mansion has 90-year history

Today, Cheekwood Estate and Gardens spans 55 acres. The 30,000-square-foot mansion formerly home to the Cheeks opened as a museum in 1960.

Today, Cheekwood Estate and Gardens spans 55 acres. The 30,000-square-foot mansion formerly home to the Cheeks opened as a museum in 1960.

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Cheekwood Estate and Gardens: Belle Meade mansion has 90-year history
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Cheekwood Estate and Gardens: Belle Meade mansion has 90-year history
Image description
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens: Belle Meade mansion has 90-year history
Image description
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens: Belle Meade mansion has 90-year history

Ninety years ago, the Cheeks—one of Nashville’s early entrepreneurial families—set out on a European voyage with landscape architect Bryant Fleming. Leslie and Mabel Cheek, in search of inspiration for their future home, returned to Tennessee with seven train cars full of architectural elements in tow.


Three years later, in 1932, the Cheeks moved into a 36-room home located on 100 acres adjacent to Warner Parks. Fleming had full control over the exterior, interior and landscape design of Cheekwood Estate—a combination of the family’s last name with Mabel’s maiden name, Wood—according to Assistant Curator Katelyn Bennett.


“Warner Parks had just been established, so Fleming knew the views here were not going to change,” Bennett said. “At his suggestion, the Cheeks purchased the land for $50,000, and the rest is history.”


Mabel maintained the home over the next decade until her death in 1946 at age 72. She left the estate and its furnishings to her two children, Leslie Cheek Jr. and Huldah Cheek, and grandchildren, Bennett said.


In 1957, plans began to turn the mansion and grounds to into a botanical garden and fine arts center. On May 31, 1960, Cheekwood opened to the public and has since functioned as a nonprofit funded by members, visitors, campaigns and grants.


In 2011, Cheekwood launched an initiative to restore the historic mansion to its 1930s origins. Cheekwood unveiled the major renovation in June 2017.


“With 75 percent of the original vista intact, Cheekwood has completely transformed from what it was a decade ago,” Bennett said. “No one really knew about the history of this house, but it’s one of the best examples of American Country Place Era estates that exists today.”


Cheekwood employees spent years cross-referencing old photographs and the home’s original inventory to stay as accurate as possible to the home’s original look.


“What we’ve come up with is [not] open to interpretation or our personal design taste. It’s identical to what it was in the photographs,” Bennett said.


Cheekwood is now in the midst of a $30 million campaign to boost its endowment and fund projects such as a children’s gardens and enhancements to its mile-long sculpture trail, according to Cheekwood Marketing Director Chanel McDaniel.


“The funds are specifically for building an endowment to ensure Cheekwood is kept up,” McDaniel said. “We now have 55 acres to take care of. When you think about it, that’s a lot of acreage to maintain as a nonprofit.”

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