By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home
Visitors to Bellingrath Gardens and Home may not notice the many examples of Victorian iron work gracing pathways and terraces. These pieces celebrate many of the same decorative motifs found on objects within the Home.
The Victorian Era has been dubbed “The Cast Iron Age” for the extensive use of this material from the 1850s through the close of the century. Cast iron is created using molten iron poured into a reusable mold. It quickly eclipsed earlier wrought iron, which had to be individually forged and shaped by a skilled blacksmith.
The cast iron railings and columns on the outside of the Bellingrath Home, salvaged from the Southern Hotel in downtown Mobile before it was demolished in 1934, feature a scrolling “s” curve, which is duplicated on three different etageres within.
The Rose Garden features iron column tops and bases from the Bank of the State of Alabama, along with iron planters made and marked by J.W. Fiske N.Y., who was one of the most prominent makers and retailers of cast iron in the 19th century.
The Fiske urns fronting the Conservatory came from the New Orleans front yard of cotton broker George W. Clay, previously at 4132 St. Charles Ave. A bill of sale notes that Mrs. Bellingrath paid the Clays $150 for “urns in yard,” while paying twice that amount for a lace tablecloth.
The towering urns on the North Terrace outside the Bellingrath Home once belonged to Harry and Elizabeth Holden, who lived at 438 Audubon Boulevard in New Orleans. Most of the furniture in Mrs. Bellingrath’s bedroom also previously graced the Holden house.
Perhaps the most distinctive iron piece in the Gardens is the beloved lion who overlooks Mirror Lake. The life-size feline was created in the mid-19th century as a garden ornament for a home on Mobile’s Government Street.