Thornton’s Mills

The Thorntons were a very prominent family in Fredericksburg in the 18th and 19th centuries.  In 1720, Francis Thornton I patented 8,000 acres of land, and the current boundaries of Fredericksburg now cover much of this patent.  This same year, his son, Francis Thornton II, built the first of Fredericksburg’s mills near this location.  The business remained in the family for several generations, and in 1783 Francis Thornton III fully extended a dam to the opposite bank of the river.  Remains of the original foundation can be seen near the intersection with River Road.

The remains of the mill.Photo Credit: Lara Belfield

The remains of the mill.
Photo Credit: Lara Belfield


Remains of the mill extending across the river. Photo Credit: Lara Belfield

Remains of the mill extending across the river.
Photo Credit: Lara Belfield

Francis Thornton II built the first of the family’s great houses, known as “The Falls,” in 1735 along what is now Princess Anne Street.  The house has long been destroyed, and in its place now stands the George Washington Executive Center. Just behind this site is the original graveyard for the Thornton family. Francis Thornton II also served as a justice in the House of Burgesses and the head of the Spotsylvania County militia.

In 1790, Francis Thornton V built a house at the base of Fall Hill, and this location lent its name to the Georgian-style structure.  Fall Hill is located about .2 miles north of Fall Hill Avenue, just over a mile from this location.  Due to the convenient location of Fall Hill, General Lee used it as a basepoint to guard the river.  However, the house itself was never damaged during any battles.   A major renovation took place in the 1840’s, transforming the interior into a representation of the Greek revival style.  The Thornton family retained ownership of the structure until 1999, though it is still privately owned and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  Supposedly, the ghost of a Native American woman named Katina who once acted as a nanny to the Thornton family haunts the house.  Her grave is located within the bounds of the estate.


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