Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, AL
Cost $127 for two adults and four children to enter, go on the boat and the house tour. The boat ended up braking, and the extra $30 something bucks was refunded to us. There is also a cafe’ that has some sandwiches and soup. Sandwiches were $8. They were large enough that not one of us ate more than half. Next time around, we’ll split sandwiches as they really were pretty large. Sandwiches came with chips.
We got to the gardens around 10:30 and didn’t leave till 3. And that didn’t include the boat tour. I had heard from many people on reviews online that it’s a four hour deal. BUt we would’ve spent a good six hours there. So don’t plan anything else during the day if you go.
Yes, it’s lots of walking, but there’s also lots of shade since it’s so densely landscaped. It’s kept very well. Very clean grounds and restrooms.
About the Bellingraths. I was really inspired by their story and I felt a certain kinship with Bessie Bellingrath. Walter Bellingrath was the owner of a Coca Cola bottling company in Mobile. He has a very interesting work story, but I’ll keep it short. He worked hard, he had many investments, he was very successful. Enter Bessie. She was his stenographer (if memory serves well) and with her “long brown hair and deep blue eyes” he was smitten. They married. Well, there came a time when Walter’s health started to falter. He went to see a doctor and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong for awhile. Finally, a specialist figured out the problem. Walter was a workaholic. The doctor ordered him to have some fun. He’d been looking at a small 5-acre fishing camp for awhile, and with this new prescription, he decided to purchase.
The Bellingraths around that time went on a long trip through Europe and they took note of the lavish houses and gardens there. When they got back, Bessie decided she wanted to turn the fishing camp into a garden. They purchased the adjacent 60 acres, hired an architect/designer, and built the gardens. After the gardens were built, the Bellingraths decided to build a home as well. So, in interesting fashion, they built the house after the gardens that surround it.
The house itself is over 10,000 sq ft and is kept in mint condition with all the original furniture and pieces of porcelain for viewing. It’s located in the middle of the gardens. Now, keep in mind, they lived in this house while there were tours going on. Bessie died after living in the house for a short 8 years. After she died, Walter lived an additional 12 years. It’s said that the people who came by his house daily helped him get out of bed in the morning, showcasing what his beautiful wife had created.
Some interesting tidbits about the Bellingraths. They had no children, and so they left their estate and the proceeds from the tours of the gardens goes to three different schools and two churches in the area. Bessie was very giving.
There were several times when a person in the community was selling furniture to get some money to try to make ends meet during the hard times of the Depression. Bessie would stop by and offer to buy the piece of furniture, giving them the money, and saying she’d send one of her employees to go get it. But in the end, she wouldn’t. One of the men who worked for her has stated that she would say, “They needed the money but they are too proud to ask for it.”
Bessie created her whole world around beauty. Walter may have been a workaholic, but together they balanced each other out. She showed him how to appreciate life and beauty. He showed her hard work.
The sidewalks on the property are mostly a beautiful stone. That stone was once used as sidewalk material for Mobile. Bessie wanted it. She eventually convinced the city to change over to concrete and she got the stones herself for her gardens.
The architect who helped design the gardens (and later on, the home) worked WITH the land, not against it. There are several natural wells on the property and it would’ve been a huge muddy mess. Instead, he included water features into the gardens and used the natural resources of the property to his advantage.
Walter owned a tile company briefly. It ended up going under during the Depression. While Bessie chose much of the furniture inside the house, there’s quite a bit of tile work that was done because of the good deal Walter could get. There’s one bathroom in particular that’s green and pink. Bessie apparently HATED that bathroom. But Walter stuck with it and insisted they use the tile because he got it for so cheap.
They had twelve or fifteen different FULL sets of china. They used them all. They figured what’s the point in having it if you’re not going to use it. The house has three different dining rooms, and all were used, depending on the time of the year and what the view would be like out the windows. In other words, every aspect of life revolved around what would be the prettiest, the most pleasurable.