Thornwood, after all, was the home that Col. Alfred Shorter built about a decade and a half after he moved to Rome from Eufaula, Ala., in the late 1830s.
Shorter and his wife, the former Martha Harper Baldwin, were among Rome’s wealthiest and most influential citizens in the city’s formative years. He was able to parlay much of the inheritance his wife received from the death of her first husband into an empire that involved everything from cotton trading to collecting toll on two bridges over Rome’s rivers.
In the late 1840s Shorter began construction of Thornwood, which may have been named for the hawthorn trees that were abundant on the property. It took nearly five years to complete the home, which was completely void of traditional nails, having been hammered together with wood wedges.
Shorter and his wife were not able to have offspring of their own, so the couple took in Martha and Charles Harper, her niece and nephew. Just a couple of years after the home was completed, Martha Harper was wed to Col. D.E.B. Hamilton inside the home.
During the Civil War, Thornwood was twice occupied by federal troops. Shorter and his wife had taken temporary refuge at their second home in South Georgia when the first Yankee soldiers, scouts for Col. Abel D. Streight, took over the home for a brief period in 1863. A year later, during Sherman’s plundering of Georgia on the way to Savannah, Yankee troops again occupied the home.
The invaders must have had some degree of respect for the structure because it was not torched as they moved south, but at some point during their stay the men in blue left their mark, carving initials in attic beams and writing a message in charcoal in the attic which supposedly said “You Old Reb that left your house.”
“When I was in school there in the ’60s you could still see the charcoal writings,” said Mary Sib Banks, who also noted that a nick was taken out of one of the front columns to hang the U.S. flag.
Less than a decade after the war ended, Shorter and the Rev. Luther Rice Gwaltney founded what was to become Shorter University.
Thornwood was subsequently the home for several generations of the Hamilton family, who finally sold the home in 1944 to Mr. and Mrs. W. A. DuPre.
W.A. “Bill” DuPre III has vivid memories of the old house.
“We moved in on D-Day, June 6, 1944,” said DuPre.
He remembers a lot of writing on one of the walls in the right front bedroom upstairs. “It was covered up with wallpaper but it was not destroyed,” DuPre said.
He said that he recalls the old original heart pine baseboard-to-baseboard flooring, 12-15 inches wide by 20 feet long, with no seams whatsoever.
“It was plaster walls and it was held together with horsehair mixed in it,” DuPre said. “Just the construction was something that impressed me as a 12-year-old boy.
In 1958 the DuPres sold the structure to the Board of Trustees who created the Thornwood School for Girls. It has been used for education purposes ever since.
During the course of the next 15 years, the women who passed through its halls developed quite an attachment for the historic old home. Nancy Hunter, who started at Thornwood in 1959, said it’s hard to explain the bond.
“The first year that we went there that was the only building of the school,” Hunter said. “We had everything in that building. Maybe it’s a girl thing.”
Lookout Mountain Circuit Judge Kristina Cook Graham, from Summerville, graduated from Thornwood in 1970.
“It was an amazing place,” Graham said. “I’m sure Shorter will take care of it, but I think it’s a shame that Darlington is letting go that part of our heritage. All of the women who went to Thornwood still have an allegiance to Thornwood.”
Hunter’s class had 20 graduates, a figure she said was typical of the enrollment during a 15-year period of time.
In April of 1973 the Darlington Board of Trustees voted to consolidate with the Thornwood School for Girls, and Darlington has owned the campus ever since.
Thornton was deemed eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, but for reasons no one has been able to fully explain, it was never formally certified for the Register.
In 1997 a $192,600 restoration plan for the property on behalf of Darlington School and Thornwood Alumni was prepared by Surber Barber Choate & Hertlein architects. Hunter recalls that by the time the project was completed, the price tag went well beyond the projected budget.
Darlington and Shorter officials have confirmed that they are engaged in talks regarding the deal but have not commented about a timeline or a proposed use for the property in the event the deal is consummated.