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Up the Road to Orton Plantation - The Day of ALL Days

Orton gates_500 When you drive through the gates of historic Orton Plantation, you are immediately taken aback by the shear beauty of the place. Take a giant step back in time ... we're talking early 1735, when Roger Moore established what would become the most significant Colonial plantation on the lower Cape Fear river. Ten miles upriver from Southport and the Cape Fear's confluence with the Atlantic, Orton has a rich and colorful history. Orton's notoriety in the region came in part because of its success as a rice plantation. It's elaborate system of dikes and levees built in the marshes along the Cape Fear River provided the necessary flushing with the rise and fall of every tide. Rice was still being produced at Orton as late as the 1920s. Mr. James Sprunt purchased Orton in 1904 from his father-in-law Col. Kenneth Murchison, who was responsible for extensive restorations following the Civil War. Orton has flourished ever since through the faithful guardianship of Sprunt's children and grandchildren. Yesterday I was honored to attend the 100th birthday of , a man who not only worked in those rice fields, but would spend the next 70 years planting and nurturing the beautiful gardens of Orton Plantation.

Clarence Jones2_500_April 08 I guess I've really never known a real live Centenarian. I've only seen them pictured on Willard Scott's 100th birthday wishes on the Today Show. My great grandmother, "Granny Vic," that I was named after, lived to be 99. She was out late playing cards the night before she died so I grew up knowing it's at least possible to live a very long an active life. As for Mr. Clarence, he still drives, he still comes by every Thursday to check on things,and to greet visitors and tell a story or two. This is a man with a lot of stories.

Orton Scroll Garden_500 He got to tell a few of those stories yesterday, to a very large and attentive audience of family and friends, all there to share in celebration of a true "living legend." His legacy most notably is Orton Plantation Gardens, a breathtaking 20 acres of azaleas, camellias, crepe myrtles, dogwoods, magnolia, colorful perennials and seasonal annuals. It was told yesterday that Mr. Clarence can identify the variety of azalea by feeling the leaf. This seems believable, seeing as he either planted or propagated most all of the azaleas and camellias in the garden.

Camellia_179 So back to the birthday party .... it was a grand and fitting affair. Both Wilmington news crews came to cover it and interview Mr. Jones. Local barbeque, fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, hushpuppies, and sweet tea were served...what more do you need? There were touching tributes, letters from various dignitaries, heavenly singing voices, colorful storytelling, and earth-shaking cannon booms. It was the day of ALL days indeed. From here I'll let the pictures do the talking.

From the beginning ...

Road to Orton_500

Guests arriving ...

Guests arriving_500

A colorful party ...

Under the Bigtop_500

The man himself ... Mr. Clarence Jones ... 100 years old on 08-08-08

Clarence1_500 Clarence2_500Clarence3_500

With a little help blowing out the candles ...


The final exclamation ...


Echoes of the past, present, ...


and future ...


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