We look for places like the Bellingrath Gardens and Home to visit. The 65 acres of the Bellingrath Gardens was a very pleasant place to visit on a day that was cool but sunny. We also toured the Bellingrath Home.
Where does something like these gardens and a fine home come from? Well money helps and Walter Bellingrath did pretty well as one of the first distributors for Coca Cola when it was available in soda fountains and then as a major bottler of Coke when it became available in bottles. He and his wife Bessie lived in Mobile and bought a former fish camp south of Mobile on the western side of Mobile Bay and began to develop a summer home. Bessie brought a taste for elegance both in the new home and in the garden spaces. Walter was a bit of a scrounger.
The 15 room, 10,500 sq ft Bellingrath Home was built in 1936 with bricks salvaged from an 1852 home of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. The extensive ironwork railings came from the Souther Hotel in Mobile which was being torn down at the time. The flagstone walkways, courtyard and terraces came from sidewalks in Mobile that were made from cast off ship ballast that came from England during the height of the cotton trade. Mr Bellingrath wanted the stone, Memphis wanted paved sidewalks so a swap was arranged. Much of the structure is concrete for durability in the Southern climate. Bellingrath also owned a decorative concrete tile company so his tiles were used in many areas of the home.
They wanted the most modern home possible so they installed electric fixtures and wiring in anticipation of electricity someday coming to the remote area and a large generator to supply power until 1940.
Ultra modern bathrooms (at least for 1935) were installed. The pale green, peach and cream colors look more like something from the 50’s.
The kitchen had German silver countertops, electric and gas stoves and ovens and electric refrigerators and freezers. It reminded us of the kitchen at the LBJ Ranch House we visited a couple years ago but there was no beer on tap.
Today the home is just as it was when the Bellingraths lived there. They were the only people to have ever lived there. All of the furnishings are original. Bessie was a scrounger in her own right and shopped at the “garage” sales of the day and managed to find sets of silver for her butlers pantry, dishes from all over the world and a very nice Tiffany Lamp for just dollars at the time. Today it is worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The front door.
The Formal Dining Room
The Casual Dining Room. There was a third dining room as well.
Your basic Bed Rooms
The Butler’s Pantry
In 1932, before the house was built, the Bellingraths opened their gardens to the public for a Sunday afternoon to see the spring flowers. More than 4,700 people showed up creating huge traffic jams. By 1934 the gardens were open to the public year round.
Bessie passed away in 1943. In 1949 at age 80 Walter Bellingrath announced the formation of a foundation to oversee the home and gardens. Walter died in 1955 and the home was opened to the public in 1956.
The Bellingrath Gardens are a beautiful mix of open spaces, small focus areas, ponds, quiet sitting places and intertwining paths. They lead past a green house and a hot house through the Rose Gardens, past the Asian Gardens, along side the Great Lawn and the Live Oak Plaza up to the house and down to the River Pavillion. We were about two weeks ahead of full bloom and still they were wonderful.
The Rose Gardens past the bridge.
A quiet spot overlooking Mirror Lake.
Looking down toward the Fowl River.
A terrace and a river side pavilion and boat landing.
We had a nice lunch there as well and as is almost always the case there is a Gift Shop. I found some nice cards and we both spotted something that we would normally never get but it was just so perfect.
A perfect bunny made of dyed fibers complete with carrots.
And a little back pack with more. She is sitting on the dash next to our traveling turtles and dragonfly on a rock.
All this was possible because we took the ferry across Mobile Bay from Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island and then the causeway to the west side of Mobile Bay. Schedules were tight so we didn’t get to spend much time on Dauphin Island.
It was windy with lots of waves.
And a salt water car wash.
Susan and I were on Dauphin Island in 1977. We had a week in the middle of the winter. We headed for Big Bend National Park, the weather was terrible. So we went East to the Great Smokies, it was snowing. So we went south and ended up on Dauphin Island for a day and a half, got sunburned and headed home. That was our first RV trip.
More Later, Much Love,
Roger and Susan