About Airlie – Built for Samuel T. Thorne circa 1912
When I first started learning about the Samuel T Thorne house aka Airlie after seeing it on Zillow
It has such a plucked out of history feel so I researched further and the first thing to pop up was The Old House Life blog. At one time it had lots of comments with historical information.
According to the Guide to the Architecture of Eastern North Carolina by Catherine W. Bishir & Michael T. Southern) Airlie started out in life as a one story house built in 1840.
Listed in A GUIDE TO THE ARCHITECTURE OF EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (written by Catherine W. Bishir & Michael T. Southern), Airlie started out in life as a one story house built in 1840 and in 1912 became it’s current two-story “Southern Colonial” home, a popular style in the early 20th century. Airlie is a symmetrical frame home, the front of which is dominated by a portico of Corinthian columns and carved pediment. Both the columns and the carved pediment once graced a former Halifax County Courthouse and were purchased for this home when the courthouse was torn down. The courthouse was a Victorian structure and a plaque showing where the courthouse was located is situated on a vacant lot on the Halifax town square.
Built originally by E.L. Pike in 1912 for Samuel T. Thorne, son of William Thorne. Samuel T. Thorne, a farmer and owner of a cotton gin, a gristmill, and a store. Mr. Thorne had the front two-storied portion of the home added to the original one-storied portion, in the rear, which was built in the 1800s. This older portion became the kitchen, pantry, and “everyday” dining room, as opposed to the “good”/company dining room in the later front addition. The property has had only three other owners who actually lived here. The last long term resident was Ms. Bianca Brown
There are 53+/- acres: 24 tillable, 26 woodland, 3 acre homesite/barnyard. There are 2 tenant houses, 4 wells, 3 tobacco barns, a pack house, a stone dairy, a smoke house, an elevated corn crib plus other small buildings. There is a large pond with surrounding pasture.
The front entry is composed of French doors with side lights, all under a lovely beveled glass “sunburst” half-round transom. (Beautiful “rainbows” are cast all over the front hall by the morning sun shining through the glass!). Atop this entry is a small, outside, second floor balcony. The staircase is in the front hall. The ceilings are high and the rooms are spacious. There are 7 fireplaces off two chimneys. A “widow’s walk” had once topped the house.
The home is approached by a semicircular driveway with huge oaks and beautiful evergreens in the front yard. Many flowers and shrubs once adorned the yard, such as dogwood trees, camellias, azaleas, black walnut & pecan trees, fruit trees and a scuppernong grape vines. We are working to uncover those and see what is left.
House owner Samuel T Thorne owned a Cotton Gin (still on the property, in bad shape), a commercial shop and a grist mill, all within a miles or so of the main house. I have not yet seen pictures of the store online, as it was tore down decades ago. The brick and mortar store was built within a few miles of Airlie in the middle of nowhere. Mr. Thorne designed it to look like a city block shop but in the field. Operating the Airlie Post Office until the early 20th Century, the shop also sold furniture, clothes and shoes. The commercial building was a draw that was a testament to the commercial interest of the property and of Mr. Thorne. In addition Samuel T Thorne was the postmaster general of nearby Littleton, NC.
The Grist Mill is about 1-2 miles from the Plantation Property and is owned by a local Littleton Resident. You can find it on google maps if you’re astute. Also, within a mile of the property is the Thorne-Clarke Family Graveyard which is still owned and functioning from the family trust.
We found it intriguing that the columns and the carved pediment came from the original Halifax County Courthouse built in 1847 which was replaced in 1910. When we went to tour we learned from the historic placards that the current columns on the courthouse in Halifax are replicas of the columns on Airlie.
After the Thorne family owned this home, the Crawley family lived in the home. After the Crawley’s owned the home it was then known as the Bianca Brown house.
Many people remember the house as Bianca’s house. In an obituary dated January, 2013 in The Lake Gaston Gazette-Observer for a Bianca M Brown, formerly of Airlie. The obituary mentions that she was a German immigrant, and was known for her careers in business and the arts. There are so many stories about her I am going to create blog posts with just those stories. Mr. Brown was retired military. He committed suicide by hanging fall of 1978
I searched the internet and found the house was photographed extensively and one of my favorites was Watson Brown’s picture. We have a copy of it framed and ready to go up in the house when we are ready.