Information from Airlie Gardens Website
It was not untill the arrival of Sarah Jones, wife of Pembroke Jones, that a formal garden was created. The Joneses were wealthy industrialists noted for their lavish entertaining. They used Airlie as a means to accommodate their guests and parties.
Sarah Jones began planting the property in 1901 and later in 1906 commissioned German landscape architect Rudolf Topel to transform the tract into a picturesque garden. Airlie reached its peak during the 1920s, at which time it was reported that over a half million azaleas and 5,000 camellias were in the garden; many of these plants still bloom and thrive in the garden. The 67-acres of today’s Airlie are all that remain of the original 155-acre estate.
The Corbett Family purchased the Airlie property from the Joneses in 1948 and used the gardens as a primary residence. Local business owners with strong ties to the community, the Corbetts would open the garden to the public several seasons throughout the year, especially in the spring during azalea bloom. In 1999 the family sold the property to New Hanover County. Today, Airlie is a local treasure as one of the last undeveloped land tracts along Bradley Creek. The gardens are undergoing restoration and are now preserved for public use.
Airlie Dates of Significance
The Airlie Oak is merely an acorn taking root.
“John Hill,” a man of mystery, dies and is buried in a lone grave on the Airlie property. The mystery grave is stop three on the garden tour.
Dr. Thomas Henry Wright builds Mount Lebanon Chapel. According to Dr. Wright’s wishes, Mount Lebanon Chapel and its accompanying six-and-one-half-acre tract of land is deeded to St. James Church in Wilmington.
The Chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The chapel still stands today and may be visited during the garden tour on stop six.
The Joneses buy a parcel of land that will become the core of the Airlie property.
Renowned horticulturist P. J. Berckmans of Augusta, Ga., brings camellias and azaleas to Airlie.
1901 – 1906
Sarah Jones begins transforming Airlie into a garden estate by creating lakes and tree-lined paths. The design of the gardens develops in a naturally curving and mysterious style. c. 1904 Sarah Jones adds a classical pergola made of coquina as a focal point of Airlie’s lakeside, which is stop two on the garden tour.
1902 – 1903
Pembroke Jones begins to assemble parcels of land adjacent to Airlie and creates Pembroke Park, a 2,200-acre estate, which later becomes the site of the Landfall residential community.
The present Airlie gate is installed.
Bradley Creek is closed to shellfishing.
The Corbett Package Company purchases Airlie for $150,000 from the Joneses daughter, Sadie Jones Pope.
The first annual Azalea Festival begins on April 9. During the festival Queen Jacqueline White and her entourage pay a visit to Airlie, a “royal tradition” that continues today.
The original wooden bridges over Airlie’s lakes are replaced with earthen causeways.
Over the years many storms have changed Airlie’s landscape. Two hurricanes hit the N.C. coast in 1899, causing great damage to the area and uprooting many cedar trees. A terrible ice storm in 1946 injures much of the garden’s plantings. Hurricane Hazel in 1954 floods many underlying areas of Airlie. More recently, Hurricane Bertha and Fran damage the garden in 1996.
New Hanover County purchases 67 acres for a public garden, Airlie Gardens. A portion of the money comes from a County Tidal Creeks Grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund; a regular program of environmental education is instituted for schools and the public.
Airlie Foundation, Inc. publishes Airlie: The Garden of Wilmington , by Susan Taylor Block. The book is available for purchase in the Airlie Gift Shop.
Minnie Evans: The Artist of Airlie
Minnie Evans was the gatekeeper of Airlie Gardens from 1949 to 1974, and is considered to be one of America’s most important visionary artists. Born in Long Creek, N.C. in 1892, Minnie’s original name was Minnie Eva Jones (no relationship to Pembroke Jones). Two months after her birth, Minnie and her mother moved to Wilmington to live with Minnie’s grandmother, Mary Croom Jones. Years passed and Minnie Eva Jones married Julius Evans in 1908. Julius was a coachman for Pembroke Jones and a supervisor for the Pembroke Park property. In 1935, following a vision, Minnie Evans began drawing. Her own take on color, mysticism, and symmetry made her art unique. Minnie died in 1987 at the age of 95. While at Airlie Gardens, be sure to visit stop nine on the garden tour, the Minnie Evans Sculpture Garden and Bottle Chapel. It was constructed by local artists as a tribute to Minnie’s life and talent.