Not far from where I lived as a boy was beautiful Orton Plantation. It fits almost everyone’s image of a prototypical antebellum southern mansion. It is located on the west side of the Cape Fear River about seven miles downriver from Wilmington.
The first home at Orton was built in 1725, but it was destroyed a few years later by local American Indians. The current Orton plantation house was constructed in 1735, and the surrounding land was developed into a leading rice plantation. Hundreds of slaves worked the land.
Plantations the size of Orton were rare in the old South. On average, only one in four white families owned a slave, and most owned only a few. Orton was an anomaly, and its owners were very wealthy people.
Orton escaped a raid by Spanish privateers on nearby Brunswick Town in 1748, the British evidently left it alone during the Revolution, and it continued to prosper until the end of the Civil War. Within a few weeks after the capture of Fort Fisher in January 1865, Union soldiers occupied the plantation and freed the remaining slaves. The house itself was used as a military hospital, thus saving it from probable destruction.
Orton Plantation was abandoned after the Civil War and remained empty for 19 years. Following its purchase in 1884, a series of owners gradually restored the mansion house to its former glory. Though the house itself remained a private residence, the garden and chapel were open to the public, and the old rice fields became a wildlife sanctuary. With the 2010 sale of Orton Plantation to Louis Moore Bacon, a hedge fund manager and direct descendent of Roger Moore, builder of the original Orton plantation house in 1725, the situation regarding public access may have changed.
Orton often serves as a backdrop for movie and television productions.