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Mr. Bellingrath Arrives in Mobile

August 17, 1903

Mr. Bellingrath Arrives in Mobile

Mr. Walter Duncan Bellingrath arrives in Mobile to take over ownership of Coca-Cola Bottling Company at the age of 34. In the spring of 1903, Walter and his brother, Will, had purchased the Montgomery and Mobile Coca-Cola franchises.  They agreed that Will would manage the Montgomery operation and that Walter would come to Mobile, because, he said, “I love to fish!” Walter’s Mobile franchise spanned…

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Hurricane Floods Coca-Cola Facility

September 27, 1906

Hurricane Floods Coca-Cola Facility

A hurricane strikes Mobile, flooding the Coca-Cola Bottling Company on Water Street that Walter Bellingrath had started only two years earlier. At that time, no radar warning systems of impending hurricanes existed. Instead, the local weather bureau raised a storm flag when their instruments indicated bad weather was ahead. The roof of Mr. Bellingrath’s plant was partially destroyed and the rising flood waters carried off…

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Marriage to Bessie Mae Morse

November 14, 1906

Marriage to Bessie Mae Morse

Walter Bellingrath marries his former stenographer, Bessie Mae Morse.  The wedding took place in the parlor of 56 North Lafayette Street, the Morse family home. The future Mrs. Bellingrath had lost her mother, Alice Morrow Morse, earlier that year, and the wedding was therefore a quiet one, witnessed only by “the relatives and a few close friends,” according to the account in the Mobile Register.…

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Fowl River Fishing Camp is Purchased

August 15, 1917

Fowl River Fishing Camp is Purchased

The Bellingraths purchase the former Lisloy Club overlooking Fowl River, a 25-acre property. It was a former men’s fishing club, and occupied a pair of rough cabins that had housed sawmill workers in the early 1890s. Bellingrath enlarges north cabin to include two bedrooms. The property becomes known as “Belle Camp.”

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National Mosaic Tile Company

January 1, 1920

National Mosaic Tile Company

Walter Bellingrath purchases the National Mosaic Tile Company. The firm produced Adamantile, a line of decorative cement floor tiles. The distinctive patterns were created when  colored concrete was poured into design moulds and then compressed into 7″ square tiles. Visitors to the Bellingrath Home see examples of this product throughout the floors of the kitchen areas and porches on the first floor. The tile, known…

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Electricity at Belle Camp

September 16, 1926

Electricity at Belle Camp

Electricity comes to Belle Camp with the addition of a generator that was installed in a wooden structure beside the garage. An entry in the Belle Camp guest register notes, “9/16/26 Dinner by electric lights for first time.” The electricity was powered by a Delco system, run by kerosene or gasoline. Delco, or the Dayton Engineering Laboratory Company, had first succeeded in building an electric…

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Search for Azaleas and Camellias

May 1, 1927

Search for Azaleas and Camellias

Mr. & Mrs. Bellingrath tour Europe for several months.  They are inspired by the beautiful estate gardens throughout Europe. Upon returning home, they hire architect George B. Rogers to transform their camp into a garden estate. Rogers and Mrs. Bellingrath begin their search for large established azaleas and camellias for the new gardens from individuals and nurseries throughout the Gulf Coast. Huge shrubs are dug…

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Mobile’s First Azalea Trail

February 22, 1929

Mobile’s First Azalea Trail

Mobile’s first Azalea Trail opens. It includes the Bellingrath property on South Ann Street. The Bellingraths’ Ann Street neighbor, Sam Lackland, convinces them to become the first azalea garden to be opened on the “Azalea Trail,” which he designed after witnessing crowds flocking to see azaleas in Charleston, SC.

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Grotto and Flagstone Walkways Completed

January 1, 1931

Grotto and Flagstone Walkways Completed

Grotto is completed, along with series of runnels and fountains. Flagstones are obtained from downtown Mobile sidewalks. Mrs. Bellingrath paid for their removal and replacement with concrete, to the delight of City of Mobile officials.

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Belle Camp Opens to the Public

April 7, 1932

Belle Camp Opens to the Public

Belle Camp is essentially complete. The Bellingraths invite visiting delegates to a garden club convention to tour their garden. Mr. Bellingrath places an ad in the April 6, 1932 Mobile Register inviting the public to tour their garden on the following afternoon. More than 4,700 people arrive at Belle Camp, creating one of the county’s worst traffic jams, on April 7, 1932. Stunned by the…

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A Permanent Bellingrath Home

December 1, 1933

A Permanent Bellingrath Home

Gardens Open to Public

March 1, 1934

Gardens Open to Public

The property opens to the public year-round, with a $1 admission.

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Construction Begins on the Bellingrath Home

June 18, 1935

Construction Begins on the Bellingrath Home

Ground is broken for the 10,500-square-foot Bellingrath Home on the site of the north cabin. Rogers describes its exterior as “a mingling of French, English and Mediterranean influences.”

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Conservatory Construction Begins

September 23, 1935

Conservatory Construction Begins

Walter and Bessie Bellingrath contracted with New York firm Lord and Burnham to build what was termed a “conservatory and palm house” adjoining their Rose Garden. Lord and Burnham was famous for designing and building some of America’s most well-known conservatories. The Bellingrath design included a brick building with a tall chimney situated behind the Conservatory to provide heat for the interior. At that time,…

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Rose Garden Completed

March 15, 1936

Rose Garden Completed

The Rose Garden is constructed in the shape of the Rotary emblem. Walter Bellingrath was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Mobile in 1914.

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Home Sweet Home

July 4, 1936

Home Sweet Home

The Bellingraths have their first meal in their new home. Construction of a proposed south wing to replace the Lodge is halted when Mr. Bellingrath discovers the total cost to date for construction.

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Bellingraths Published

January 1, 1938

January issue of Better Homes and Gardens features national coverage of Mobile’s Azalea Trail with numerous photographs of Bellingrath Gardens. The writer encourages everyone to see the “Flaming Drama of the South” when the azaleas are in bloom.

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Bellingraths Return to Surprise

July 18, 1938

Bellingraths Return to Surprise

The Bellingraths return from a visit to New Orleans to find a crowd of more than 200 friends and well-wishers in their driveway. A bronze plaque and stone bench had been installed in their absence. It thanks them for opening their estate to the public and “their untiring effort for the up-building of the City of Mobile and this ‘Charm Spot of the Deep South.’”

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Guest House Built

January 1, 1939

Guest House Built

The old garage is replaced by a six-car garage with a four-bedroom guest house above. A private chapel is built at the south end of the structure.

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Death of Mrs. Bellingrath

February 15, 1943

Death of Mrs. Bellingrath

Mrs. Bessie Morse Bellingrath dies at the age of 64 in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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Revamped

June 1, 1949

From June of 1949 until August of 1951, Hancock House of Memphis is hired to redecorate the Bellingrath Home. New draperies, valances and glass curtains are installed, numerous antique vases are converted into lamps, chairs and sofas are recovered, custom bedspreads are made, tables are repaired and refinished and a $4,500 Aubusson carpet is placed in the main dining room. The final bill totals $32,294.21.

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Bellingrath-Morse Foundation Formed

August 6, 1949

Bellingrath-Morse Foundation Formed

Mr. Bellingrath, at 80th birthday celebration,  announces the formation of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation. The Foundation is to maintain the Gardens and Home as a “fitting memorial to my wife,” as well as to benefit Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala. The Bellingrath Home is to be opened to the public after his death.

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First Gardens Manager Retires

January 1, 1954

First Gardens Manager Retires

Mr. A.A. Hunt retires as Gardens manager after 20 years at Bellingrath. He was hired by the Bellingraths after they met him when he was working for the Rufus Mcllhenny family on Avery Island, La. Mr. M.B. Greene takes over as horticultural manager and landscape engineer.

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Death of Mr. Bellingrath

August 8, 1955

Death of Mr. Bellingrath

  Mr. Walter Duncan Bellingrath dies at the age of 86 and is buried beside his wife at Magnolia Cemetery. After Mr. Bellingrath’s death, George Downing becomes Chairman of the Board of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation. The House is prepared for the opening to the public by the year’s end and the Gift Shop is installed in former Lodge. Frederick W. Holder is named General Manager…

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Home Opens to Public

January 1, 1956

Home Opens to Public

Property is officially named “Bellingrath Gardens and Home”; Home opens to public for tours.

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New Director

July 11, 1956

Margaret Taylor Moore is hired as the new director for the Bellingrath’s Home.

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Relocation

July 12, 1956

The Bellingrath Garden offices are officially moved from the Coca-Cola Bottling Company to the Guest House at the Gardens. The new offices are served by one Bell telephone line with two extensions.

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Help Needed

July 16, 1956

Help Needed

John Mark “Doc” Brown is hired as Mr. Greene’s assistant. He and his wife reside on the property in a house near the warehouse area.

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Camellia Arboretum Opens

January 10, 1958

Camellia Arboretum Opens

M.B. Greene, landscape engineer, opens the new Camellia Arboretum, located behind the Summer House. Paths of zoysia grass and pine straw lead guests past several hundred newly camellias, each labeled with its variety. Completion is planned for the fall. The arboretum is intended to have at least one of every recognized variety of camellia.

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America’s Junior Miss Competition Established

February 27, 1958

America’s Junior Miss Competition Established

America’s Junior Miss competition is established in Mobile with Fred Holder, manager of Bellingrath Gardens and Home, as its first president, and George Downing, President of Coca-Cola of Mobile and Executive Director of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation, as its treasurer. In 2011, the competition was renamed Distinguished Young Women.

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Entrance Building Construction Begins

January 1, 1963

Entrance Building Construction Begins

Construction begins on the new Entrance Building/Cafeteria.

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Diane Sawyer, America’s Junior Miss 1963, Visits

March 17, 1963

Diane Sawyer, America’s Junior Miss 1963, Visits

Diane Sawyer, America’s Junior Miss 1963, visits Bellingrath Gardens and Home on March 17, 1963, the day after winning the competition in downtown Mobile. Sawyer represented Kentucky; the four runners-up were from Ohio, South Dakota, Arizona and Pennsylvania. A photo from the event is used as a 15′ by 60′ billboard advertisement for Kodak in Grand Central Terminal, NYC.  

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First Cascade Chrysanthemum Display

November 3, 1963

First Cascade Chrysanthemum Display

The first Cascade Chrysanthemum display is held. Stock plants for the cascade mums were obtained from Longwood Gardens in Kennent Square, Penn.

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Open House for Completed Construction

November 8, 1964

Open House for Completed Construction

The completion of the South Terrace, Rose Bridge, Pet Motel, and Entrance Building, now home to the Cafe and Gift Shop, is celebrated with an open house, attended by approximately 12,115 visitors.

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Assistant Landscape Engineer

January 1, 1965

Assistant Landscape Engineer

Pat Ryan is hired as Assistant Landscape Engineer.

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Delchamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain is dedicated

March 9, 1967

Delchamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain is dedicated

The previously enclosed garage becomes the Bellingrath Gallery of Boehm Porcelain, displaying a collection donated by the Delchamps Family. The facility is dedicated on March 9, 1967. It would later be renamed after the Delchamps.

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Hurricane Camille

August 14, 1969

Hurricane Camille

Hurricane Camille strikes the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hurricane winds from the west topple numerous older water oaks throughout Gardens, especially near South Terrace. No electricity for a week results in a generator purchase to run irrigation wells in similar emergencies. No trees are replanted.

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Preparing for the Worst

September 21, 1975

Gardens closed and Home boarded in anticipation of hurricane “Eloise.” Storm veers to the east and hits Florida Gulf Coast.

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Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage

September 14, 1977

Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage

The Bellingrath Home is added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

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Bellingrath in Southern Accents

December 1, 1978

Bellingrath in Southern Accents

The Bellingrath Home is redecorated and featured on the cover of Southern Accents.

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Hurricane Frederic

September 12, 1979

Hurricane Frederic

Hurricane Frederic strikes Mobile on September 12th. Bellingrath Gardens and Home is severely damaged. The damage is estimated to be over $6 million. More than 1,000 pine trees, 150 live oaks and 330 water oaks are destroyed by the storm. The Gardens would remain closed until March 1, 1980, when Bellingrath re-opened with a bulb show.

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Gardens Reopen After Frederic

March 1, 1980

Gardens Reopen After Frederic

The Gardens are reopened for the bulb show. 135,000 bulbs, including tulips, hyacinths, narcissus and jonquils, are in bloom. At 10 a.m., rains come; that night, the temperature drops to 18 degrees with a chill factor estimated at -13 degrees. It was the shortest blooming season in the Gardens’ history.

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Free Admission to Chrysanthemum Show

November 23, 1980

The public is invited free of charge to view the Cascade Chrysanthemum Show and to see that the Gardens have recovered. Torrential rains arrive by mid-morning.

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Washed Out

February 10, 1981

Ten hours of rain brings 11 inches and the dam separating Mirror Lake from Fowl River overflows, causing serious washouts. The spillway at the Asian-American Garden is also washed out.

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Up In Flames

March 18, 1981

A forest fire on both sides of Bellingrath Gardens Road roars towards the Gardens, fed by blustery winds. Bellingrath employees, neighbors, and volunteer fire departments work to keep the fire away from the center of the Gardens and Home.

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New Entrance Building Opens

February 1, 1982

New Entrance Building Opens

The new Entrance Building with enlarged parking lot is completed.    

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National Register of Historic Places

October 19, 1982

National Register of Historic Places

The Bellingrath Home is added to the National Register of Historic Places.  

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Chapel Restored

December 15, 1982

Chapel Restored

The newly restored Chapel, funded by a gift from Wometco Enterprises, Inc., is dedicated. Leaded glass windows featuring flowers are installed, as well as pews, a communion table and a pair of Italian brass chandeliers. The decoration was handled by Stanley Ellis, George Downing’s stepson. The drapery at front of Chapel is of Fortuney fabric, red, hand blocked with 24-karat gold overlay, imported from Venice.…

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Grant from Exxon

January 1, 1992

Paving of sand paths and installation of handicap ramps throughout the Gardens is completed, funded by a grant from Exxon.

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New Museum Home Director

January 2, 1994

New Museum Home Director

On January 2, Tom McGehee becomes the Museum Director for the Bellingrath Home.

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A Bellingrath Family Wedding

November 11, 1995

A Bellingrath Family Wedding

Gardens are closed for the day. Catherine Bellingrath of Little Rock marries Pascal Weiss on the South Terrace at 1 p.m. Catherine’s great-grandfather was Walter Bellingrath’s brother, Leonard Ferdinand Bellingrath. Over 200 Bellingrath family members are in attendance.

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First Magic Christmas in Lights

November 25, 1995

First Magic Christmas in Lights

The first Magic Christmas in Lights is held.

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Harrigan / ExxonMobil Bayou Boardwalk Opens

October 5, 1996

Harrigan / ExxonMobil Bayou Boardwalk Opens

The Harrigan / ExxonMobil Bayou Boardwalk is opened to the public.

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Bellingrath on “America’s Castles”

November 24, 1996

Bellingrath on “America’s Castles”

The “Garden Estates” episode of “America’s Castles” premieres on Arts and Entertainment Network television, featuring Bellingrath Gardens and Home. Bellingrath is the only Alabama property to be featured.

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“Good Morning America” at Bellingrath

May 13, 1999

“Good Morning America” at Bellingrath

“Good Morning America” broadcasts from the Gardens. The show features hosts Charles Gibson and former Junior Miss Diane Sawyer, and Faith Hill sings on the Great Lawn.

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Dr. William E. Barrick named Executive Director

November 15, 1999

Dr. William E. Barrick named Executive Director

Dr. William E. Barrick is named Executive Director of Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

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A New Magic Christmas in Lights

November 24, 2000

A New Magic Christmas in Lights

Magic Christmas in Lights show is redesigned.

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Friends of Bellingrath Established

April 1, 2003

The “Friends of Bellingrath” membership programs established.

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Azalea Trail Maid Reunion

March 20, 2004

Azalea Trail Maid Reunion

Azalea Trail Maid Reunion attended by more than 750 former Trail Maids.

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Bellingrath Gardens and Home Foundation

July 8, 2004

Bellingrath Gardens and Home Foundation established.

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Hurricane Ivan Damages Wharf and Pavilion

September 14, 2004

Hurricane Ivan Damages Wharf and Pavilion

Hurricane Ivan strikes Mobile, damaging the wharf and pavilion at  Bellingrath.

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Updated Entrance Building

March 1, 2005

Updated Entrance Building

  The Entrance Building is remodeled.

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Seventy-Fifth Anniversary

April 7, 2007

Seventy-Fifth Anniversary

Guests for 75th Anniversary Celebration include Al Stokes, Chief of Staff, City of Mobile; Lee Sentell, Director, Alabama Department of Tourism; Walter L. Hovell, Chairman, Bellingrath-Morse Foundation; Walter Bellingrath Edgar, the Bellingraths’ great nephew; and Ernest Edgar, the Bellingraths’ nephew.

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Rose Garden Fountain

July 25, 2010

Rose Garden Fountain

On this date, the Rose Garden Fountain was officially dedicated. Before it arrived at Bellingrath, the fountain had been at the entrance to Bel Air Mall in Mobile, but was removed and put in storage during a mall renovation.

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Linda Guy Wins American Rose Society Bronze Honor

September 1, 2010

Linda Guy Wins American Rose Society Bronze Honor

Bellingrath Rosarian Linda Guy is awarded the American Rose Society Bronze Honor Medal.

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Bellingrath Mums in Country Gardens

August 1, 2013

Bellingrath Mums in Country Gardens

Better Homes and Gardens’ special interest publication, Country Gardens, features Bellingrath Gardens’ annual Cascading Mums Display.

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Fifty Years of Cascading Mums

November 11, 2013

Fifty Years of Cascading Mums

Bellingrath’s Horticultural Staff marks 50 years of presenting the Fall Outdoor Cascading Chrysanthemum Display. The show originated from cuttings donated by Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania in the early 1960s.

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New Mirror Lake Bridge Completed

August 15, 2014

New Mirror Lake Bridge Completed

A new bridge across Mirror Lake is completed for use.  

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Magic Christmas in Lights in USA Today

December 15, 2014

Magic Christmas in Lights in USA Today

USA Today includes Bellingrath Gardens and Home’s Magic Christmas in Lights on its list of the “10 Best Public Light Displays in America”; votes from online readers put Bellingrath in sixth place.

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Awards

May 1, 2015

Awards

Dr. William E. Barrick receives two major awards: the American Horticultural Society’s 2015 Liberty Hyde Bailey Award and Auburn University’s College of Agricultural Outstanding Alumni Award for the Horticulture Program. 20th anniversary celebration of Magic Christmas in Lights.

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Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame

January 1, 2016

Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame

At the 2016 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Bellingrath Gardens and Home is inducted into the Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame.

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Edward Marshall Boehm

January 1, 2017

Edward Marshall Boehm

A new film about sculptor Edward Marshall Boehm is created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Delchamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain.

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Magic Christmas in Lights in USA Today’s 2018 Top 10 “Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays in America”

December 15, 2018

Magic Christmas in Lights in USA Today’s 2018 Top 10 “Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays in America”

Magic Christmas in Lights places in USA Today’s top 10 list of “Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays in America.” The list is complied with readers’ online votes.  

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Dr. Barrick retires

July 19, 2019

Dr. Barrick retires

Dr. William E. Barrick officially retires on July 19, 2019, becoming Director Emeritus.

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Gardens and Home closed during pandemic

March 15, 2020

Gardens and Home closed during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic forces the closure of Bellingrath Gardens and home from March 15 to May 18, 2020.

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Hurricane Sally strikes the Gulf Coast

September 15, 2020

Hurricane Sally strikes the Gulf Coast

On September 15, Hurricane Sally strikes the Gulf Coast. The Gardens lose trees across the property and remain closed through September 17 to give the staff time to clear the grounds of debris.

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Magic Christmas in Lights Magic Christmas in Lights in USA Today’s 2020 Top 10 “Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays in America”

June 29, 2021

Magic Christmas in Lights Magic Christmas in Lights in USA Today’s 2020 Top 10 “Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays in America”

USA Today readers select Magic Christmas in Lights to the publication’s 2020 list of “Top 10 Best Botanical Garden Holiday Light Displays.”

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New Executive Director Arrives

September 1, 2021

New Executive Director Arrives

Dr. F. Todd Lasseigne begins work as the new Executive Director of Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

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