THEODORE, Ala. — Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Theodore celebrates two milestones in 2016. It’s the 80th anniversary of the home and it has been open to the public for 60 years.
What started as a fish camp for Walter D. Bellingrath, Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler, is now a grand museum home and 65 acres of world-class gardens with year-round blooms.
Bellingrath Gardens and Home is located about 30 minutes south of Mobile along the Fowl River.
Groups may tour the Bellingrath home, Rose Garden, Asian-American Garden, Bellingrath Home Terraces, Harrigan/ExxonMobil Bayou Boardwalk and many other gardens.
Tom McGehee, museum director of the Bellingrath home, said docents conduct 45-minute tours of the 10,500-square-foot home. In addition to talking about the antiques that Bessie Bellingrath collected, docents share stories about the Bellingraths.
The gardens began with Mrs. Bellingrath’s azaleas and soon expanded.
“When the Depression hit, Mrs. Bellingrath would knock on strangers’ doors,” he said. “She would say, ‘I noticed that flower and how rare it was. We need it for Bellingrath Gardens.’ She would pay the person for the flower and it never looked like charity.”
Mr. Bellingrath was one of the first Coca-Cola bottlers to push advertising in the winter months in an effort to make Coke a year-round beverage, McGehee said.
Bessie Bellingrath died in 1943 at the age of 64, and Walter Bellingrath died in 1955 at the age of 86.
Groups can tour the gardens only, or the gardens and home during normal business hours. Available year-round, group tours can be purchased with or without lunch.
In late November, the gardens have the largest outdoor display of chrysanthemums in the United States.
A Magic Christmas in Lights seasonal tour features more than 3 million lights and over 1,000 displays in 13 themed scenes. Several group tour packages are available.
For more information, call 251-973-2217 or visit bellingrath.org.