Bellingrath ancestor came to area from Germany circa 1848

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Thanksgiving Reunion in 1821 in Montgomery. Mrs. Leonard (Catherine Jean) Bellingrath (center) with her five surviving children: L-R: Leonard F., Mamie B. Burnett, Walter Duncan, Kate B. Brown and William Albert. Courtesy photo

The past two columns have focused on members of the famous Bellingrath family and their descendants. In answer to those readers who have asked, these individuals are of the family who created the world-famous Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, Alabama. The book, Mister Bell—A Life Story of Walter D. Bellingrath by Howard Barney, was made available, which makes possible today’s further look at this family.

Previously, the family and business success of Mary Elizabeth “Mamie” Bellingrath and her husband, John Burnett, were reviewed. Her brothers allowed the couple to acquire the Coca-Cola franchise for Andalusia in 1905, which became a major success. Other Bellingrath siblings were allowed to have the franchises in a number of major cities.

A closer look at the Bellingrath genealogy reveals the following summary. The patriarch, Leonard B. Bellingrath, was born in 1832 in Lennep, Germany, a small, medieval village in the Rhine River Valley of Northwest Germany. Leonard, as his ancestor had, became an expert in metal work, particularly in copper cutting and fabrication. Being a very astute young man, he became entangled in politics and sought a freer political order. Shortly before the revolution of 1848, Leonard became fearful and left the country under protection of darkness. He joined a number of other Germans including his father, a brother named Albert, and a sister, Henrietta, who migrated to the United States during the 1840s.

Although they landed in New York, Leonard soon joined his father in Cumberland County, North Carolina, where they worked in the business of distilling turpentine and making stills for other producers. In 1855, he was married to Catherine Jean McMillan at Fayettville. Jean was the daughter of William Henry and Catherine Jean (Campbell) McMillan. Leonard and Catherine’s first son was born there before they headed south to Atlanta looking for “greener pastures.”  He and his brother, Albert, were successful there in metal working for a few years and two more children were born during this period. Then came the War Between the States.

Since his political loyalties were with his adopted Southland, Leonard enlisted in the 19th Georgia Regiment where he was put to work in the railroad shops. He was later given the rank of 4th Corporal in the Medical Purveyors Guard. In May, 1864, he was assigned to Company F., 3rd Battalion of Georgia State Guard with service in Fulton County. Before Sherman’s destruction of Atlanta, Leonard helped his family flee in a box car to Cuthbert, Georgia, where another son was born later in 1866.

The family returned to Atlanta a few months later and opened a plumbing business with his brother, Albert. The two brothers’ families lived on a short street that was given the name of Bellingrath Avenue, which is currently in downtown Atlanta. Leonard’s last three children were born there in 1868-1971. He returned to the turpentine business, but he grew weary in that location. In the late 1870s, Leonard packed up is family and moved by train and wagon to Castleberry, Ala., in Conecuh County. The attraction appears to have been the virgin pine timber and a major railroad for producing turpentine.

Leonard was quite successful in operating a still and manufacturing turpentine, especially for the naval stores’ export business in Mobile. However, a fire destroyed the still and prevailing conditions forced the close of the business. Leonard then became a traveling salesman for supplies and equipment for the turpentine industry. He later tried to establish a turpentine still in New Orleans circa 1892. About this time he became seriously ill and died Oct. 7, 1892.

Following Leonard’s death, his widow and youngest daughter moved to Anniston, Alabama, to be near her children there. Her youngest son, Walter Duncan, returned to Castleberry about the same time as his father’s death. He served as railroad agent for the L & N Railroad for about two years. He was able to rent a room in his old family home, but he was very lonely for his family and to be in such a small, rural area.

Leonard and Catherine Bellingrath reared the following children: Edwin, ca 1857, d. ca 1896; Mary Elizabeth “Mamie,” m. John S. Burnett; Theodore Leon “Thede,” m. Maude Smith; Leonard Ferdinand, m. Janie Castleberry; William Albert “Will,” b. 1868, m. Mary Nesbitt Elmore; Walter Duncan, b. 1869, d. 1955, m. Bessie Mae Morse; and Catherine Jean “Kate,” b. 1871, m. W.N. Brown. There was an eighth child, but the name is unknown to this writer.

Brothers William Albert and Walter Duncan had established a Bellingrath Coca-Cola dynasty extending from Alabama to Arkansas by 1910. Will had the franchise for the City of Mongomery, and Walter established his bottling business in Mobile. They were quite successful and then able to share their good fortune with their siblings. The success of Mamie and John Burnett in establishing the company in Andalusia was thoroughly described in the previous two columns. Theodore Leon and his wife had the company in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Leonard Ferdinand and his wife operated a company in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Kate and W. N. Brown had the bottling franchise for a company in Selma.

The next column will feature Walter Duncan Bellingrath. An account of his industrious labors to find success from Castleberry through towns in Georgia and Alabama will be presented. Also, the creation of Bellingrath Gardens by Walter and his beloved wife, Bessie Mae (Morse) will be outlined.

The source for this writing was the book mentioned earlier, Mister Bell—A Life Story of Walter D. Bellingrath by Howard Barney.  Anyone who might have additional information on the Bellingraths family or the Bellingrath Gardens is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or e-mail: