The first Azalea Festival was held in 1948 with Hugh Morton serving as President. The following is a letter written by Mr. Morton to Gayle Ward in response to her request for information about the Festival beginnings:
Dr. W. Houston Moore, M.D., a wonderful old gentleman who lived in the 1800 block of Market Street, had been active through the Rotary Club in beautifying Greenfield Park with azaleas, dogwoods, and other flowering plants. In 1947 he decided to invite all of the leading civic clubs in Wilmington to send a representative to a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce in its building behind City Hall to discuss the feasibility of holding an Azalea Festival that would celebrate the beauty of Greenfield, Orton, Airlie and other gardens around town. I was sent by the Wilmington Jaycees as their representative to that first meeting.
There are probably minutes somewhere that list all of those who attended that first gathering. I can recall Henry Rehder, Wallace Murchison, Kenneth Sprunt, Star-News Editor John Hope and Paul T. Marshburn as being among ones who were particularly supportive of Dr. Moore’s idea.
I had a business trip that caused me to miss the second meeting of the somewhat informal Committee, but upon returning to town I was advised that I had been elected-selected President of the first Azalea Festival. I did my level best to talk my way out of that, but Dr. Moore was a persuasive and determined guy, and there were promises of support from all around the room from others on the Committee.
When the first Azalea Festival took place in April 1948 the gardens were at peak beauty, the weather was perfect, and the Festival cleared $5,000, a profit we knew we had to have or we would never see the second Festival. Our first, and absolutely Ideal Queen was Jacqueline White of RKO Radio Pictures. The top other celebrities were Ted Malone, who originated his coast-to-coast ABC Radio Network program from a platform in front of the Community Center on Second Street, and NC Governor R. Gregg Cherry, who crowned the Queen at Lumina Ballroom on Wrightsville Beach. The community was saddened when Dr. Moore died during the summer following the 1948 Festival, but the whole town was pleased to believe he died happy that the first Azalea Festival was a rousing success.