The Vagabond – The Coates Bend Thornton house

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By Danny Crownover

The Vagabond recently found an article dated in 1948 about the Coats/Thornton home located on the Appalachian Highway near Hokes Bluff. The home is one of the oldest houses in Etowah County. The article reads:

“This writer had the privilege of visiting Jim Thornton, who owns and lives in the fine old colonial mansion built in Coates Bend by Gideon Coates about 104 years ago.

“An architectural gem of the Old South, the house is is built in the shape of a T with tall white columns in front and on both sides, with of the stem of the T located in the rear.

“From the windows can be seen hundreds of broad acres that produced crops for a full century and still grow crops with amazing success.

“African slaves cleared the land and aided in building the home and other buildings, and several Indians helped. Today the place is completely mechanized. Five swarms of honeybees are housed in the porch columns, while another swarm took up its residence in the old bee gum on the back porch.

“Seated in comfortable rocking chairs with sheepskin cushions before a blazing fire in the ancient living room and prompted occasionally by this writer, Jim and Bill Thornton drifted into reminiscences, for they are among the greatest hunters in Etowah County.

The brothers recalled one time when they went to Ball Play, and each one killed 20 squirrels with 20 shots. Twenty of the squirrels filled a half-bushel measure. The squirrels were fried and stewed and cooked with dumplings. Coon, rabbits, fox and opossum hunts were also recalled.

“Wild geese and ducks used to be plentiful on the Coosa River and in nearby ponds. Jim recalled the annual visit of wild pigeons, in such force as to darken the sky. He killed many of them. Joe recalled that robins came in almost as thick as the pigeons at the beginning of each spring. The robins roosted in thickets, and it was great sport for the brothers to blind the birds with torches at night and knock from tree limbs into sacks. Wild turkeys and deer were killed in great numbers in Ball Play.

“Joe, Jim, and Bill are grandsons of Benjamin Thornton, who moved to Alabama from Apple Valley, Georgia to Pollard’s Bend in Cherokee County before the Indians were moved to the west. On his huge Coosa River plantation, Benjamin raised one of the most influential families in this section of the state. Benjamin was a game hunter, as were all of his male descendants. A story is passed down over time that when Benjamin came from Apple Valley, he brought his favorite deer dog with him. The dog did not like Alabama, however, and lit [sic] out for Georgia at the first opportunity.

“This writer visited the old home in Coates Bend in 1926, which had by then been almost abandoned. There were signs, however of the baronial-like life led by the first generation of Thorntons. The old wine cellar was intact, with benches made from hewn logs to hold wine casks.

“Located near the front door was what was probably the largest scuppernong vine in the world. Its trunk was larger than the body of an average-sized man. It spread in every direction. That old vine, produced as much as 316 gallons of wine in one season, in addition to bushels of fruit either given away or put up as preserves, jellies and jams.

“Jim Thornton is preparing to erect a tall wire fence around 12 acres of his best cotton land, where he expects to raise about 2,000 turkeys this year. He will continue to plant cotton on the plot. Jim hopes to spend next winter in Miami, Florida, where he and Mrs. Thornton own a home on about two- and one-half acres of land. If Jim does go to Florida, his sons will be left to run the plantation during the winter of 1948.”

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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