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Heiress to former Airlie owner leaves gift to gardens

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -– Just in time for Christmas, Airlie Gardens has received a gift from the estate of a woman who's family once owned Airlie.

Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, granddaughter of Sarah and Pembroke Jones of Wilmington, died October 6. Estate executors announced this week a bequest in Ridgway's will of $75,000 left to Airlie Gardens, the site of her grandparents’ mansion and garden paradise.

Airlie Gardens Director Jim McDaniel says the money will go toward a historic restoration project to interpret the Jones period.

"I think she would be happy to know her money is going to help restore the historic parts of the gardens," McDaniel said.

McDaniel says the $200,000 project will be behind the Jones family's old mansion, which is now a private home on Spring Garden Drive. The fundraising effort has already received donations from the Kenan family and the McMerty family.

Sarah and Pembroke Jones, along with family friend Henry Walters, were a fixture of the Wilmington landscape from 1884 until the early 1940s. The Joneses' mansion and 155-acre backyard masterpiece at Airlie Gardens entertained everyone from the local elite to Governors and US Presidents.

"Jane Ridgway was the last descendant of Pembroke Jones to experience and treasure years of memories of people and places in Wilmington, and to care deeply for Airlie," said Susan Taylor Block, Airlie historian and author of "Airlie: The Garden of Wilmington."

In a letter Ridgway once sent Block, she wrote: "We all adored Airlie as did everyone who ever visited there. It was a happy, magical place and a great joy to my Grandmother, who was its creator... Airlie was all my beautiful childhood dreams wrapped up in one word which my grandmother spelled out beautifully."

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