In a South Alabama town of roughly 5,000 lies a stunning, secluded escape. Originally opened in 1932, Bellingrath Gardens and Home was the loving offering of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bellingrath. While many have enjoyed moments amongst the architecture and seasonal blooms, few may know the love story that laid the foundation for the Gulf Coast gem. Luckily, Bellingrath Gardens and Home has compiled both Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bellingrath’s stories.

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The Story of Walter Bellingrath

Atlanta-born Walter Bellingrath spent his early years in the small town of Castleberry, Alabama. At age 17, he began work with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad as a station manager with the primary responsibility of managing telegraph messages. An enduring symbol of humble beginnings, the telegraph key used during his time working for the Railroad can be found on his desk within the Bellingrath Home.

In 1903, Walter and his brother were told about an exciting potential business venture. There was an opportunity to work as a franchisee, selling bottled Coca-Cola in South Alabama. The area of operation was large which led to the two brothers deciding to split the territory in two. Reportedly, Walter claimed Mobile as, he later would joke, he liked to fish. Over time and through dedicated effort, the Mobile Coca-Cola Bottling Company became one of the most successful in the United States.

“I want to make the world better and brighter by my being here.”

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The Story of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath

Bessie Mae Morse was born in 1878 in Mobile to Sewell and Alice Morse. From a young age, Bessie showed a strong interest in artistic endeavors. Prioritizing practicality, however, she sought a career as a stenographer. Walter and Bessie met in Mobile and soon after, in 1906, the two married.

Mrs. Bellingrath’s love of gardens which had developed throughout her early years only strengthened throughout the couple’s time together. Their home on South Ann Street was known for its covetable gardens, and the property was so admired that it became the starting point for the now-famous Mobile Azalea Trail.

A marriage that bore no children, Walter became dedicated to one primary focus after Bessie’s passing in 1943. He decided to dedicate the rest of his life to working on the Bellingrath Gardens that Bessie had spent so much time and love cultivating over the course of their marriage.

“These Gardens were my wife’s dream,” he once said, “and I want to live to see that dream come true.”

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A Legacy of Love Lives On

After Walter’s passing in 1955, his estate became the Bellingrath Morse Foundation which opened the Bellingrath home to visitors and is now responsible for overseeing the gardens.

All profits in excess of what is required for the operation of Bellingrath Gardens and Home provide scholarships at Huntington College, Stillman College, and Rhodes College as well as St. Francis Methodist Church and Central Presbyterian Church.

It is noted that Walter always credited Bessie’s genius for the creation of Bellingrath Gardens.

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I shall always think of you wandering through a lovely garden,
Like that which you fashioned with your own hands,
Where flowers never fade and no cold wind of sorrow,
Blights our hopes and plans—And on your face,
The peace of one whose whole life through,
Walked with God.
– Your devoted husband