Family stories are passed down from generation to generation so that over time they become Biblical fact.
We all have them, and in some cases the longer we live, the more riddled with holes they become. The latest example in our family is the historic Thornton House in Stone Mountain, a house I had been told — and many members of our family believed — was one of our ancestral homes dating back to the 1790s in Greene County. We were so convinced of it that my great-great aunt helped save it. This Thornton House is different from the Albert E. Thornton House in Buckhead.
Here are the facts about the Thornton House: It was built by Thomas Redmond Thornton, who came to Georgia by way of Virginia in the late 18th century. He operated an indigo farm in Union Point. Indigo, as the name suggests, was used for blue dye. He raised four children in his home: James, Vincent, Sara and Mercer. The home is thought to have been built in the 1790s, making it one of the oldest in the state. I know all of this because I took my family to Stone Mountain, telling our children this was our family.
I would never proclaim such a thing, so it was left to my wife Lori, who informed the historian at Stone Mountain. It was then the story started falling apart. For one thing, he knew a lot about the house and the family. For another, he didn’t know of any connection between the Thornton House and the Thorntons of LaGrange, who had been a prominent family during the 19th century. We are connected to those Thorntons, not the Thorntons.
Apparently that information never reached my great aunt Edna Thornton, who donated the funds through the Atlanta Arts Association to have it moved to the grounds of the fledgling High Museum of Art in Midtown and restored, where it was operated as a historic home until the 1960s.
Then there is the story of how it came to be in Stone Mountain. Allegedly Edna Thornton wanted the home to be moved to the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead when the Memorial Arts Center in Midtown now the Woodruff Arts Center was being built. The Atlanta Historical Society only requested that it be moved to the new location. Aunt Edna decided that wouldn’t do and instead arranged to have it donated to the group operating Stone Mountain, which was acquiring historic homes. But for that slight, the Thornton House may well have been at the Atlanta History Center. Again, this is oral family history more than fact.
This one is really on Aunt Edna, who erroneously had been told the Greene County house was somehow tied to our little clan. However, that error saved one of the oldest homes in the state for future generations. Not a bad mistake if you had to make one.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org