In addition to sunshine, newly opened daffodils, and the promise of spring, the end of March brought a very exciting group of visitors to White Plains. A descendent of the Thornley family, by way of Major William and Major John Thornley, brought his family to Virginia to see the old Thornley family home in King George County.
They arrived early on a windy and cold Saturday, and we all had the chance to share a few stories about the Thornley family and the farm. It was only recently that they discovered the property was still standing. Family legend said that the house had burned. As you begin to piece stories together, we realized that the east part of the roof had burned sometime in either the late 19th century or early 20th century, just not to the ground. There are still some very charred members in the attic where an obviously raging fire likely opened up the roof. Luckily the east chimney was spared and the fire was caught in time to ensure that the house was still standing for their visit.
They even brought pictures taken in the 1920s that their great great grandmother, Jane Riding Thornley, had taken on one of her visits to the farm. Jane was born in 1870 and died in 1966 at the age of 95. We have two letters from her to two different owners of the property. She shared stories and her knowledge of the “old Thornley place,” as she called it. Although the pictures are only of the west elevation of the house, they are wonderful to have and shed new light on old questions. But like anything else, they also bring up many more questions. I am still hoping to find additional interior or other exterior photos that may be out there. Perhaps they’ve been destroyed, or they were never taken, or they are hiding in someone’s garage, never be found. Perhaps one day!
After some good stories, a bite of breakfast, and a tour of the house, we had to say farewell as they continued on their journey through Virginia. I am confident we will meet again, a new friendship. There is often a tie that bonds people together who share a common love of old spaces and times. The Thornley family gave much to the King George and local Virginia community of Port Conway. The house of White Plains still stands in their memory.