Thornton Estate in Kent County is a quintessential Eastern Shore estate that is remarkable for many reasons. It is an important part of Kent County’s history from the time that King Charles I granted the original patent in 1664 to Lord Baltimore. In 1693, Thornton was conveyed to Philip Brooks who built the original house and for over three hundred years, subsequent owners included Philip George Wilmer (Mayor of Chestertown from 1935-1963). Remarkably, Thornton is still owned by Brooks’ direct descendants and the current stewards are the 12th direct descendant generation of the family. Inside the house is a delightful photograph, dated 1898, showing ancestors gathered for a family portrait in front of the house.
The manor house was renovated in 1980 as a family home and it was again renovated in 2008. The 325 acres of farmland, including traditional and organic cropland, are protected in perpetuity by conservation easements established in the 1980s. On the day I visited, I drove down the gravel drive that first passes through an allee of trees. The vista changes to open up between the house and the Merlot vineyard and curves around the side elevation to the parking area. Before entering the house, I studied each elevation to savor the beauty of the house and the additions that both respected and enhanced the original house.
The original five-bay, one room deep, two and a half story house is constructed of earth toned brick, probably built on site and laid in an English bond pattern with a water table detail. I was very impressed to learn that the bricks for the additions were custom fabricated to match the color pattern of the original brick and I realized how seriously the family considered their stewardship of this house to be. I paused at the symmetrical front elevation to admire the arrangement of the center door and full surround of pilasters, entablature and pediment flanked by two pairs of single 12/12 windows at each side with brick headers and paneled shutters in deep blue. The second floor 8/12 windows are aligned above the first floor door and windows and the three attic 8/8 windows are aligned over the front door and between the side windows. Brick chimneys act as bookends at each end of the elevation to complete the harmonious arrangement. The side addition telescopes down and contains the kitchen, delightful breakfast area and a greenhouse that extends the full length of the elevation overlooking the vineyard.
The original house contained the entrance hall, living room and dining room on the main floor and two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. Seamless additions updated the house and created an easy flow among the rooms with minor alterations to the architecture. One side window of the dining room became the door to the kitchen/breakfast room that contains a laundry closet and exterior door to the greenhouse. The family room addition perpendicular to the main wing was created by replacing two exterior windows with cased openings to both the living and dining rooms. From the openings, short halls past the elevator, bar and powder room lead to the spacious family room with a fireplace at the rear wall. A door at one side of the family room leads to an “L” shaped sunroom and mudroom with its exterior door and a door at the opposite side wall leads to a den with wrap-around windows and a door. Both rooms offer panoramic views of the landscape.
The main floor rooms’ interior finishes include the original wide plank pine flooring that has been lovingly maintained and baseboard, chair rail and crown molding built up with multiple moldings. I admired how the windows’ top trim blends into the bottom crown molding and the sill trim blends into the chair rail for a seamless look. I especially admired how the windows’ jamb trim extended down to the top of the baseboard to accentuate the tall ceilings in each room. The fireplaces in both the living and dining rooms are beautiful focal points and are detailed with crown molding wrapping around the full chimney that projects into the room and paneled side walls. The wall above the mantel is also paneled and above the architrave is a broken pediment with the pineapple, the symbol of hospitality, at the center.
The ”T” shape of the original house and the additions create three private bedroom suites at the second floor. The original windows were strategically placed for cross ventilation and offer views of the landscape. The bedroom over the dining room below has a unique framed low door with the header slanted to follow the roof slope above. The door leads to another bedroom with stairs down to the kitchen-breakfast room below. I imagine this space was a great spot for hide and seek for young children of past generations and for tiptoeing down to the kitchen for post bedtime snacks. The primary suite is located at the front corner of the house and the suite includes a hall to the bath and dual closets as well as the rear room with recessed built-in shelving. This space has myriad uses from a sitting room, nursery or extra bedroom for families with young children. Off the hall is a deck over the sunroom below overlooking the landscape. All of the rooms on the second floor are detailed with crown molding, baseboards and trim around the windows that extends at the header to create a pocket for drapery.
The third floor’s layout also three private bedrooms are positioned over the bedrooms on the second floor. This level tucked under the roof rafters creates delightful interior architecture and at the gable walls, the wide chimneys provide a full height wall so the rooms could be furnished with beds having high headboards. Dormer windows and windows in the gable walls gives each bedroom expansive bird’s eye views of the landscape. I admired how the low windows at the gable wall were positioned just above the top of the bed and how the deep dormer windows had window seats for bedtime stories, star gazing, or a perch for a beloved pet.
If you are seeking a private place for a family vacation or a business retreat, the property also includes 3.5 miles of walking trails, in-ground pool, fire pit, helipad, stocked pond for catch and release fishing, goose pits and deer stands for hunting and a creek to the Chester River for kayaking. For more information about bookings, visit https://thorntonestate.com/. My compliments to the family for their centuries of stewardship of this exquisite house and grounds and for the opportunity to tour the property.
Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.