Heating the Bellingrath Home in the 1930s

Basement view of the furnace in the Bellingrath Home, circa 1936. The Oil-O-Matic converter is directly in front of the furnace.

By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home

When the Bellingrath Home was completed in 1936, it was equipped with something very few homes in Mobile had: Central heat. A large cast iron furnace in the basement bears a patent date of 1923 and was originally designed to burn coal. By 1936, however, such furnaces were being equipped with a converter, allowing them to burn oil.

“The residence at Bellingrath Gardens” rated a mention in the 1937 calendar from the firm that produced the “invisible” radiators for the Bellingrath Home.

“Oil-O-Matic” ad from 1929.

A period advertisement in the Mobile Register promoted “Oil-O-Matic Heating” as being “The Modern Way,” explaining: “The old-style coal furnace with its everlasting soot, dust, and smoke, is passé.  The OIL-O-MATIC is steady, reliable, economical, clean and efficient.”  And indeed, the Bellingrath Home was designed for this modern equipment, since the basement was equipped with neither a coal chute nor coal cellar.

The Bellingraths’ furnace with its Oil-O-Matic connection, provided hot water which led to radiators throughout the Bellingrath Home.  These are not the typical free standing radiators.  On first glance they seem invisible since they are discreetly hidden behind walls and beneath the floors of the living and dining rooms.

The oil-fired furnace provided warmth for the Bellingrath Home for some six decades.  Today, that furnace stands abandoned, replaced long ago by a gas-fired boiler which provides hot water to air handlers on both floors of the house.