By Michelle Shocklee
|Cheekwood mansion (photo by Cheekwood)|
That's what this picture of the Cheekwood mansion speaks to me. Peace. Loveliness. Nature. If you've ever visited the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Nashville, you know it is all of that and more. The botanical gardens have become a place where visitors can go year-round to enjoy the extensive grounds and beautiful home. But how did this mansion that was once a home to one of Nashville's most prominent families become what it is today?
|Newspaper clipping of Leslie Cheek & family in India; |
A man by the name of Christopher "C.T." Cheek owned a wholesale grocery business in Nashville in the 1880s. He had a son named Leslie Cheek, who joined his dad in the family business. In 1896, Leslie Cheek and Mabel Wood married in Clarksville, Tennessee. The pair had met only a few years earlier on a train to Nashville from New York, and it has been said Leslie bribed a porter with a box of cigars to find out the name of the beautiful young Mabel. The couple settled into Nashville society, had a son and a daughter, and enjoyed taking trips abroad.
The Cheeks grocery business did well, but we probably would have never heard of C.T. or his son Leslie if their cousin, Joel Cheek, hadn't moved to town in 1884. I blogged about Joel and how he and a partner developed Maxwell House coffee, so I won't go into the whole story here, but C.T. and Leslie both invested in their cousin's venture. And that proved to be a very good decision! In 1928, the Postum Company, later renamed General Foods, purchased Cheek-Neal Coffee Company for $45 million. As an investor, Leslie became a very wealthy man.
|1928 newspaper article re: Leslie Cheek's new home;|
In 1931, Leslie hired New York architect Bryant Fleming to build an enormous Georgian-style mansion on the 100-acres he purchased west of Nashville. The limestone home and boxwood gardens were inspired by English manors and gardens, and boasted 36 rooms (plus servants quarters) that included eleven bedrooms, twelve bathrooms, two elevators, a hidden staircase, and a library to hold Leslie's collection of more than two thousand books. Combining the family name with Mabel's maiden name, the estate was officially declared Cheekwood.
|Cheekwood walkway; photo by Cheekwood|
|Cheekwood gardens; photo by Cheekwood|
If you are ever in the Nashville area, I encourage you to take some time to visit Cheekwood. You will not be disappointed!
Your turn: Have you been to Cheekwood? Do you enjoy going to botanical gardens?
Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the 2023 Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at www.MichelleShocklee.com