About Bellingrath Gardens and Home
Walter Duncan Bellingrath, the founder of Bellingrath Gardens and Home, began Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottling operation in 1903. The franchise spanned a 100-mile radius, which he covered single-handedly at first. By the time the United States became involved in World War I, the Mobile Coca-Cola Bottling Company became one of the most successful in the country.
His success and the World War I sugar shortage took a toll on Mr. Bellingrath's health. In 1917, at the suggestion of his physician, he bought a fishing camp in south Mobile County on Fowl River, which he used as a retreat for rest and relaxation. Walter’s wife, Bessie, was an avid gardener, and their home on Ann Street in Mobile was known for its beautiful azaleas, camellias and other blooms. Mrs. Bellingrath began bringing cuttings down to plant on her husband's new property, now known as “Belle Camp.”
In 1927, the Bellingraths toured Europe, became inspired by the beautiful estate gardens there, and hired George B. Rogers, Mobile's most prominent architect, to design an estate garden at Belle Camp. Mr. Rogers and Mrs. Bellingrath searched all over the Gulf Coast for large established azaleas and camellias for new gardens for Belle Camp, as well as the Bellingraths' home. His plan for the Gardens is still being enjoyed today.
As the Gardens were developed, their reputation grew. On April 7, 1932, the Bellingraths invited Mobilians to see their gardens, and more than 4,700 people arrived, causing a massive traffic jam. Amazed at the response, the couple decided to open the Gardens each spring from January through April, charging a 50-cent admission. The Gardens were so popular that in 1934, the Bellingraths decided to keep the property open year-round and raised the admission to $1.
In 1935, the Bellingraths hired George Rogers to design their 10,500-square-foot estate home, which was completed in 1936. Rogers described the home as "a mingling of French, English and Mediterranean influences."
The Bellingraths had no children. After Mrs. Bellingrath died in 1943, Mr. Bellingrath continued their plans for their beloved Gardens until his own death in 1955. At his 80th birthday celebration in 1949, he announced the formation of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation to maintain the Gardens and Home as a "fitting memorial to my wife," as well as to benefit Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala.
In 1956, the property was officially named "Bellingrath Gardens and Home," and the Home was opened to the public for tours. The Home, which includes the Bellingraths’ original furnishings, was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1977.
In 1995, the Gardens opened a new holiday attraction: Magic Christmas in Lights, a walking tour of glowing holiday and floral scenes set out across the 65-acre estate.
Today, Bellingrath Gardens and Home is a major tourist destination along the Gulf Coast, attracting 125,000 visitors each year. It is a fitting memorial to the Bellingraths, who were eager to share their Gardens with the world.
Hours of Operation
Garden Tours Daily: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Museum Home Tours Hourly beginning at 9:00 a.m. Last tickets are sold at 3:30 p.m.
Special Extended Hours: Magic Christmas in Lights 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Day after Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve. Closed Christmas and New Year's Day. Museum Home Tours Hourly beginning at 9:00 a.m. Last tickets are sold at 9:00 p.m. For more information, call 251-973-2217 or go to www.bellingrath.org.
*The Gardens are closed:
New Year's Day