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Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

Cheekwood: Turning back the clock in TN

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postedApril 4, 2020

When travelers piece together the past of a destination, they can discover what it was, who was there, and how it’s evolved. Seeing the beautiful homes and gardens of prominent figures is a popular way to dig up that history—and the homes have their own story to tell. Here is a past and present look at one of four featured houses, and the full article can be read here.


Swept up in the success of the Industrial Revolution, husband and wife Leslie Cheek and Mabel Wood built Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in 1932. The couple had the travel bug and took their two children on grand adventures all over the world. As they planned their home, they set off for England for several months with architect Bryant Fleming (estate designer for Andrew Carnegie and the like) to study the architecture of English country estates.

They returned to Nashville with antique furnishings and other beautiful things to fill their 36-room house. The family fortune originated partly in the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company, creators and brewers of Maxwell House Coffee & Tea. It is said that President Theodore Roosevelt exclaimed the coffee was “good to the last drop!”

Family lore has it that the concept of the house came from a promise Leslie made to his wife, who owned a gilt mirror that was too tall for their previous home. They would either sell the mirror or build a house to fit it. The latter option won out, and the two combined their family names to make “Cheekwood,” built to reflect affluence with a stately home and botanical gardens surrounded by untouched land. The family enjoyed throwing lavish parties and entertaining celebrities in the home and riding their horses on the grounds.


The Cheeks’ daughter, Huldah, was deeded the estate when Mabel passed away in 1946. She inhabited the home with her husband, Walter, and daughter, Leslie, and in 1957, the family moved to make Cheekwood a public garden and fine arts center. Cheekwood opened its gates to the public on May 31, 1960.

In 2017, the mansion underwent a major restoration to reflect the time period of Leslie Sr. and Mabel’s lives in the 1930s. Because of the conservation efforts established by the parks surrounding Cheekwood, it’s one of few examples of American Country Place-era estates that maintains its original, undisturbed views.

Cheekwood is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and part of the festivities includes the opening of the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden and re-opening The Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail as well as Shomu-en, Blevins Japanese Garden after major enhancements. The attraction will also display the colorful “Chihuly at Cheekwood” April 25 through Nov. 1.

For more information, contact Amanda Bjorklund.

Top photo by Cheekwood Estate & Gardens


Support for Courier articles provided by:
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Destination Delco
History Colorado
The Huntington Library, Art Museum & Botanical Gardens
Winterthur Museum