In 1853, the mansion was built by General William Giles Harding, son of the founder. During this time, the Harding family prospered, building their domain into a 5,400-acre plantation that was renowned throughout the world for breeding champion Thoroughbred horses.
The American Civil War brought deprivation and danger to Belle Meade. During the Battle of Nashville, Union and Confederate forces skirmished in the front yard, and the mansion's massive stone columns were riddled with bullets. Evidence of the violence is still visible today.
During and after Reconstruction, Belle Meade's reputation as a first-class breeding establishment attracted buyers from around the world for the annual yearling sales. Under the management of Hardin's sons-in-law, brothers William Hicks Jackson and Howell Edmunds Jackson, Belle Meade Stud flourished. Following the Jackson brothers' deaths, 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 the property. The former plantation lands formed the independent city of Belle Meade, Tennessee.
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