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The Family Vault
On October 10, 2014
In the spring of 1837, Mary Selena McNairy Harding gave birth to her fifth child named William Giles Harding Jr in honor of his father. She had suffered with the births of all five of her children and her health seemed to worsen as the years past. Mary Selena died shortly after little William was born. The infant died six days later. General William Giles Harding was grief-stricken and heartbroken. He and Mary Selene had taken over the management of his father’s stones river farm shortly after they married and with her gone, he wished to return home to Belle Meade.
Harding and his two surviving sons came home to Belle Meade during the winter of 1838. By the spring, Harding had plans to build a monument to his wife and to have her body reinterred at Belle Meade farm. Harding paid Nashville architect, Adolphus Heiman, for some design work on a stone mausoleum or vault to be built in the corner of the main garden. The construction of the vault was completed sometime in 1839. Mary Selena’s body and those of their three children were then moved by wagon to Belle Meade.
Over time, four generations of the Harding-Jackson family were laid to rest in the stone crypt. By 1900, the family had endured great personal and financial loss and plans were made to sell the Belle Meade farm. The Mansion and 400 acres surrounding the house were sold to Judge Jacob McGavock Dickinson in 1906. No one knew what would become of the mansion and Jackson descendants made arrangements to move all family remains in the vault to Mount Olivet Cemetery. The mausoleum has remained empty since 1906.
This summer, work began to conserve this historically and architecturally significant 175 year old structure. The ongoing project includes plans for complete cleaning of the limestone façade and interior, archaeology to determine the original layout and placement of the old garden fence, and the restoration of the original 19th century landscaping.
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