To ensure and help preserve Airlie Gardens as an outstanding, historic public garden with cultural and environmental programs developed to serve New Hanover County residents and other visitors.
Airlie Gardens, the pride of Wilmington, N.C., is a destination spot for garden lovers throughout the world.
The property known as Airlie was part of the 640 acre land grant from King George II to the Ogden brothers in 1736. By the 1790’s, the land had been transferred to Joshua Grainger Wright who held much of the original acreage. First developed as a garden by Mrs. Sarah Jones, wife of Mr. Pembroke Jones (a Wright relative) and later owned by the Corbett family, Airlie’s landscape has been an important local landmark for over a century. Sarah and Pembroke Jones were wealthy industrialists noted for their lavish entertaining and the genesis of the popular saying, keeping up with the Joneses. The Corbett family purchased the property in 1946. They were local business owners with strong ties to the community. The property was kept as a garden close to the way it had been developed originally. The Corbett’s would open it to the public several seasons throughout the year, the spring in particular, for the azaleas. It became a tradition, or as some would say, a pilgrimage, by the local community to visit the garden to view the 75,000 blooming azaleas in full glory.
The Gardens were devastated by recent hurricanes, ongoing vandalism, and decline so in 1998, the Corbett family was approached with an idea to develop the site into a subdivision with 47 single-family homes. The New Hanover County Commissioners decided to acquire the property in an effort to preserve the site for future generations. Working with a local land trust and the Corbett family, the County purchased Airlie in November of 1998.
Airlie Gardens proves the region with a historic public garden that the residents and visitors of New Hanover County can be proud of. New programs for educational and cultural enrichment, successful events, beautiful plantings and strong economic growth are all hallmarks of saving this great treasure.