In 1807, Virginian John Harding bought Dunham's Station log cabin and 250 acres on the Natchez Trace. For the next 100 years, the Harding family prospered, building their domain into a 5,400 acre plantation that was world renowned as a thoroughbred horse farm.
In the early years, Harding boarded horses for neighbors such as Andrew Jackson, and he was breeding thoroughbreds by 1816. He shipped grain to Charleston and New Orleans, and owned large tracts of land in Arkansas and Louisiana.
In 1853, the current Mansion was built by General William Giles Harding, second generation of the family and the plantation would grow to encompass 5400 acres of land.
The War Between the States brought deprivation and danger to Belle Meade. During the Battle of Nashville, Union and rebel forces skirmished in the front yard, and the mansion's massive stone columns were riddled with bullets, the evidence still visible today.
In the years after the Civil War, Belle Meade's reputation as a first-class breeding establishment attracted buyers from around the world for the annual yearling sales. Adverse financial conditions forced an auction of the property at the beginning of the 20th century and the fourth generation of the
Harding family moved off property.
In 1953, Belle Meade Mansion and eight outbuildings on 30 acres were deeded to the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, and is today managed by the Nashville chapter of the Association.