Behind the doors of a house filled with memories

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The Thomas home on Cropper Road has been a fixture in that family since 1900.

By Lisa King

You don't see many homes that display as much family history as the stately old mansion on Cropper Road, where four generations of the Thomas family have lived, and that begins in the spacious foyer where a wooden cradle holds a doll near the winding staircase.


"My father slept here," Ben Allen Thomas III, 92, said, lovingly running his hand over the cradle's dark wood.

This was first the home of Thomas’s grandfather, W.J. Thomas, his wife, Mary, and his brother Benjamin, andin 1988 Ted and Beth Thomas moved from Virginia, where he had attended college, back to the house where he had spent a good portion of his childhood to help his father with the farming.

His father, Ben Allen Thomas III, still lives on the farm with his wife, Emily, in a house he built himself. He had helped his parents, Ben Allen Thomas Sr. and Vestina, run the farm until their deaths in the mid-1980s. The house is owned by the families of Ben Allen Thomas and his brother, Woodford, who is deceased.

Built in 1900 in the Federal style architecture, situated on 2,900 acres, with a long, circular drive in front and shaded by several huge trees, this home spans three stories and 8,000 square feet and features six towering columns to support a third-floor gallery that extends all the way across the front of the house. A smaller second-floor gallery extends out over the double front doors. 

Many large homes of the period, and even earlier featured double parlors, one on each side of the entrance foyer. Ted and Beth Thomas still use one of the parlors as a living room, although they call it “the music room” because a baby grand piano occupies one corner. The rest of the room is furnished in antiques.

The parlor on the east side of the house serves as an office for Thomas' software business.

All 23 rooms boast 11-foot ceilings and about half of the rooms have a fireplace. "At one time, there was a servant whose only job was to keep all the fireplaces going," Beth Thomas said.

That was before a coal furnace was installed in the basement in the 1920s along with 20 radiators to heat the home more efficiently, a heating method used up until just 12 years ago.

"We had to get up every two  hours to stoke it," she said.

Antique furniture that that was new to the previous generations graces many of the five bedrooms upstairs, three and a half bathrooms, the parlor, office, kitchen, two dining rooms, a family room, a den, a library and various other rooms.

Original features include a dumbwaiter, gas ceiling fixtures, three porches and oval windows in the upstairs bedrooms. 

Ted Thomas who with Beth, raised their four children, Andrew, Sarena, Sarah and Lydia, in the house, said for a time when he returned that it was almost as if the house were haunted.

"It was like living with ghosts," he said. "Everywhere I'd turn, I could almost see the people who had lived there so many years ago. It was like they were all around me. It took me quite a while to get over that."

Beth Thomas: "When we eat, he sits in the chair where his grandfather sat, at the same table."

"We didn't have this when I was a boy," Ben Allen Thomas III said, gesturing toward a nearby antique radio. "I remember l used to lay in there [pointing toward the dining room] and look up at the ceiling."

And hee shared a story from his teen years (1930s) about his father.

“The phone did not ring often,” he said, referring to an old crank-style phone that still hangs on the wall in the kitchen. “But one night it rang several times, just as the family was sitting down to dinner.

"Dad answered it and came back to the table, and it rang again, and he went to answer it again. He came back and sat down again, and just as he bowed his head [to say a blessing], it rang again. He said, ‘Hello?’”

Maybe the real testament that this old house truly is a home came from Emily Thomas: "My favorite thing about the house was that he was here. That's all I cared about."


Inside stuff

Address:4400 Cropper Road.

Statistics:3 stories, 23 rooms, 8,000 square feet, 12 fireplaces.


Built:1900 by Ben Allen Thomas II using building company L.H. Gruber and Sons.

Accoutrements:The house was heated by a boiler in the basement by using coal until the 1980s. Today, propane is the home's fuel source, but it is still circulated using 20 radiators located throughout the house.