Our Founders


James Tillman Thornton

1876 – 1944


Source: Obituary, Bluefield Daily Telegraph



James Tillman Thornton. 68, of 2302 Bland Rd., prominent citizen of Bluefield and one of its most successful retail merchants, died at 8:45 yesterday morning [Nov 14, 1944] at Bluefield sanitarium following a prolonged illness.


Mr. Thornton had been in declining health for about five years. Although his condition had shown improvement at intervals, permitting him to visit his store, the Thornton Company, for short periods, he had not been very active since he first became ill. He had realized the seriousness of his condition and had sought to live quietly and a rather retired life.


Funeral services will be conducted at the First Baptist Church tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 By the Rev. Cecil Cook, pastor, assisted by the Rev. J. Taylor Stinson of Lebanon, Va., a former pastor of the church. Burial will be in Maple Park cemetery.


Pallbearers will be: W. L. Thornton, Dr. E. C. Wade, C. A. Lilly, S. H. Belcher, E. G. Otey, Ray Evans, A. B. Mahood, Judge D. M. Easley, Herbert Markle and S. G. Rogers.


Flower bearers will be members of the Bluefield Rotary Club and members of the Men's Bible class of the First Baptist church.


The past two winters he spent in Florida. For the past several months relatives and business associates of Mr. Thornton had realized that his passing could be expected momentarily. And while the news of his passing was received throughout the community with profound regret, it caused more sorrow than surprise.


Not only was Mr. Thornton one of Bluefield's oldest, most progressive and successful merchants, but was one of the city's most useful and influential citizens. He had put just as much of his time and effort in the building of Bluefield and the community as he did In the building of the Thornton Company, rated among the finest stores in southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. And his death is a keen loss to the city and section where he had spent virtually all his life.


Mr. Thornton had spent 45 years of his life in the mercantile business in Bluefield. He was also interested in many other institutions which helped promote the growth of Bluefield. He was president of the Mountain View Land Company which sold some of the most beautiful home sites, in South Bluefield. The company purchased over 100 acres of land which was subdivided and each lot was sold with certain building restrictions.


Mr. Thornton was a charter member of the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce and had served on the board of directors many times; and also served as president of that body and had held the chairmanship of many of the important committees that body. It was during his term as president that he had the honor of pulling the switch which cut on the current for Bluefield’s first whiteway lighting system on Princeton Ave. It was also during his term as president that the bonds were voted to build the first hard surfaced roads in Mercer County. He was a great advocate of good roads and served as chairman of the chamber of commerce roads committee several times.


He help­ed promote and organize the Retailers Association and served several times as president of that organization. He served on the board of the State Retailers association for many years and also served on the board of directors of the state chamber of commerce. Mr. Thornton was also one of the active members of the committee that obtained the establishment of Bluefield College here. He was always out in the forefront of the promotion of those things which helped Bluefield and vicinity.


Mr. Thornton was an ardent sportsman and each year took time off from his business cares to enjoy several days hunting. His most favorite sport was golf. He was a member of the Bluefield Country Club, and served as member of the board of governors and also one term as president.  He had served one term as president of the West Virginia Golfers Association, and one term as president of the Appalachian Golfers Association.


Mr. Thornton was twice mar­ried. His first wife was Miss Bertha Wright, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Isaac Wright, of Mercer County. After her death he remarried in 1921 to Mrs. Maude E. Moore, of Little Rock. Ark. There were three children born to the first union, two of whom survive. They are: Mrs. Vera Frost, of Bluefield, and, J. Linton Thornton, of Parkersburg, who is now working in Akron, Ohio. One other son, Rinard U. Thornton of Bluefield was killed in an airplane crash at Beckley in recent years. He also leaves one sister, Mrs. T. R. Johnson, of Brittan, Okla. Also surviving are, three grandchildren, Technician Fourth grade James L. Thornton, Jr., stationed at Fort Warren, Wyo., and May Jackson Thornton, of Parkersburg, children of James L. Thornton; and Delores Wright Frost, of Bluefield, daughter of Mrs. Vera Frost.


Mr. Thornton was a member of the First Baptist Church and a charter member of the Bluefield Rotary Club. At one time he served as Sunday School superintendent and as chairman of deacons of the First Baptist church.


A native of Mercer county, Mr. Thornton, familiarly known as “Jimmy T,” was born June 28, 1876, at Willowton, Mercer County, son of the late William Thornton and Eliza Hatcher Thornton.  He spent his childhood days on his father's farm, attended the public school at Willowton, also Concord College, Athens, and while yet in his teens started the study of telegraphy under his brother at Bird's Nest, Va., near Cape Charles. He was employed as an operator by the N. Y. P. and N. railway for a time. Coming back to West Virginia was employed as assistant station agent for the Norfolk & Western.


Mr. Thornton left the service of the railroad in 1896 and came to Bluefield to take the management of the Thornton Clothing Co. store which was opened and operated at 328 Princeton Avenue. This was an exclusive men's and boy's store. The firm continued to do business at the original location but then in 1908 the new four story store and office building, corner Federal street and Princeton avenue, was completed and the Thornton Brothers store moved into its new building. The firm continued business at that location until they sold the building to National Bank and the building was completely remodeled and has since become occupied by the bank. In 1924 Mr. Thornton and his associates purchased the east half of the Elks building and the name of the company was changed to the Thornton-Laird company and a department store was operated at that location until 1934 when Mr. Thornton moved to the Law und Commerce building, Federal Street, and opened The Thornton Company store. Associated with him in the Thornton Company are Henry Kendrick who has been engaged in the mercantile business for more than 35 years, and. Roy Browder who has been with the institution for twenty years. Another prominent man in the management of the firm but who Is not a stockholder is Harry W. Garber who has been with the firm many years.


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