The original 60 acres were purchased by Walter Bellingrath in 1917 upon the advice of his physician. Dr. P. D. McGehee advised his patient to learn how to play and told him to buy the fishing camp he had been admiring.
The camp consisted of three dilapidated houses and an overgrown jungle. Mr Bellingrath reworked the cabins and began clearing the paths and was able to have his first house party here in December of 1918. It was the beginning of an ever-growing number of parties. Mr. Bellingrath loved company.
The Gardens were known for the first 15 years as "Bellcamp".
The Gardens were not open to the public at first. This was Mr. Bellingrath's fishing camp until Mrs. Bellingrath began developing it into an estate with the aid of architect George B. Rogers in 1927.
In 1932 public curiosity was at its peak The Depression was in full swing and the public was in a frenzy to see the beautiful garden Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath had been working so diligently on for five years.
Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath opened the Gardens on a March afternoon as a one-day event for the general public. The response was more than anything either could have imagined as cars lined the road bumper-to-bumper between Mobile and the Gardens. Seeing the great public interest in gardening and the enjoyment of the public in seeing Bellcamp, the Bellingraths decided to spend their energies on making the grounds a public garden.
The Bellingrath Home was completed in 1935 and was also the design of architect and long-time friend George B. Rogers. In Mobile, he had already won acclaim for the Mobile Public Library, the Government Street Methodist Church and scores of the city's most prestigious homes.
The Bellingrath Home was created with bricks salvaged from demolished ante-bellum structures in Mobile. One of the main sources was the former residences of Alba Smith Vanderbilt Belmont which stood on the site of the current City/County Complex on Government Street.
The iron work and riverside columns came from the Southern Hotel which stood at Water and Conti streets and dated from the 1830s. The iron was a later addition.
The flagstone walks came one by one from downtown Mobile. The slate came from England aboard wooden sailing ships which used the material for ballast. It was discarded on the riverfront as waste when ships were loaded with cotton at Mobile. For decades, the material was used for sidewalks in front of Mobile's businesses and finer residential structures. Today, it may still be seen in front of Christ Church and at the Richard's DAR House.
The flagstone was obtained from the City of Mobile by Mrs. Bellingrath who reportedly struck a deal. For every block of the stone carried away, the Bellingraths would pay to have new concrete poured in its place. The City's Fathers thought it a wonderful act of improving public works at no expense to the taxpayers.
The Bellingraths had no children, but both were from large families and the Bellingrath Home was usually filled to capacity with guests. Again, Mr. Bellingrath loved company.