The Tennessean
June 7, 2006
By George Zepp

I was wondering what the story is on the lovely Victorian home in Belle Meade at 6204 Old Harding Pike.

Is it true that a U.S. Supreme Court justice lived there? Does the home hold any other good stories within its walls? Eva Floyd, Nashville

Three presidents and last year a Pulitzer Prize-winning author have been among the many guests at the multimillion-dollar brick mansion along U.S. 70 just past its split with Highway 100.

It was originally the 1886-completed home of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, one of only six Tennesseans who have held seats on the nation's high court.

The land was once a part of the Belle Meade Plantation, known for its racehorses, fox hunts and deer park and now a Nashville historic site. West Meade has been termed Belle Meade's "sister" residence.

Its first family was Howell Edmunds Jackson and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Harding, daughter of Gen. William G. Harding (1808-1886), who built the Belle Meade mansion and helped develop its famous stud farm for thoroughbreds.

Harding had two daughters who married the two Jackson brothers, Howell and William Hicks Jackson (1835-1903).

Howell E. Jackson, born in 1832 in Paris, Tenn., was a promising lawyer with West Tennessee connections who developed something of a knack for politics.

After graduating from Cumberland University Law School in Lebanon in 1856, he went on to marry his first wife in 1859, help the Confederate government in the Memphis area beginning in 1861, flee to Georgia with his family after the fall of Memphis in 1862, and secure a pardon in 1866 from President Andrew Johnson for his aid to the ill-fated Southern cause.

The year after his first wife died of yellow fever in 1873, Jackson married Mary Elizabeth Harding of Belle Meade. His career in the years that followed included appointment by the state legislature to the U.S. Senate in 1881 and appointment as a judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court by President Grover Cleveland in April 1886 just as West Meade's construction was being completed.

But his father apparently had predicted his ultimate post.

"I would die happy if I could see Howell upon the Supreme Bench. He was born for it. He will get on and do well anywhere, but that is the place he was born for," Dr. Alexander Jackson (1805-1879) was quoted as saying in a biography of the younger Jackson published in 1893, the year he was seated.

Justice Jackson's term was cut short. He developed tuberculosis and died just two years later at West Meade, on Aug. 8, 1895. His grave is in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

His 1895 will, preserved today with other family documents at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, shows he had considerable assets beyond the West Meade estate, then approaching 3,000 acres about 2,600 of it a gift from his father-in-law Harding.

Jackson also owned a $50,000 Washington residence at 1311 K St. NW, just a few blocks from the White House; a Jackson, Tenn., farm as well as an interest in a wool mill there; a Memphis residence; stock in Nashville's Richland Turnpike Co.; and enough cash to leave his three children by his second marriage $5,000 each.

His widow was still living at West Meade when she died at age 63 in 1913. She bequeathed West Meade to her three children, who had helped her pay off its mortgage in 1909. It remained in the hands of descendants until its sale along with 1,750 remaining acres in 1944 for a reported $175,000 to a group of investors, with the house then resold as a 50-acre farm.

Guests entertained in the mansion are said to have included presidents Grover Cleveland in 1887, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Now bordered by modern housing, West Meade is reduced to about eight acres. The site, while considerably smaller than the days when it could accommodate fox hunts, is still impressive. Its grounds include a guesthouse, a pool house, kennels and tennis and croquet courts.

The estate's most recent restoration was carried out by the current owner, businessman Tom Black, who purchased it in 1997 just months after West Meade was seen by hundreds of visitors as the Junior League of Nashville's Decorators' Show House.

The 10,758-square-foot residence including its nine fireplaces and 14-foot ceilings accented by 13 chandeliers has been on the market at least twice in recent years. In 2002 it was offered for an asking price of $6.5 million and in 2004 for $5.2 million but was not sold.

A nationally noted wine collector, Black has maintained two underground wine cellars there with combined storage space for about 15,000 bottles.

This past November, West Meade was the site of a reception for Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike as a benefit for the Nashville Public Library Foundation.

The story of the West Meade and Belle Meade plantations' development into Nashville neighborhoods will be the topic of a free presentation at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Warner Park Nature Center, 7311 Highway 100.