Civic Leader of Tacoma
Chester Thorne graduated from Yale in 1884 with a degree in engineering. Taking a job with the Missouri Pacific Railway Co., he became friends with H. M. Hoxie, the general manager. Thorne soon married Hoxie’s daughter Anna (186?-1954), and moved to Tacoma, where he invested money in the National Bank of Commerce, later becoming its director.
Thorne was one of the very few who financially survived the Panic of 1893, a national depression triggered by a precipitous drop in United States gold reserves. While other banks failed across America, Thorne’s financial prowess stabilized his own bank and brought it through to prosperity. The National Bank of Commerce later consolidated with the Pacific National Bank, forming the National Bank of Tacoma -- with Thorne at the helm.
Thorne also helped found the Port of Tacoma, and served as president its the port commission. He was a strong advocate for the formation of Mount Rainier National Park, and fought hard -- and in vain -- to have the mountain named Mount Tacoma. Thorne led the way to opening up the park to tourists, and as first president of the Rainier National Park Co., he helped develop the park’s Paradise Lodge and other concessions.
Quite a Home
Amid his civic and financial endeavors, Thorne undertook a personal project that would create a Northwest legacy for years to come -- Thornewood. Work began on this vast 100-acre estate in the community of Lakewood. Begun in 1908, the mansion and its gardens took four years and $1 million to complete.
The sprawling 31,000 square-foot, 40-room home was designed by architect Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939), already noted for building the Rainier Club and the Stimson-Green mansion in Seattle, among others. He designed it in Tudor Gothic style, and used materials transported around Cape Horn on three ships from the British Isles. The cargo included 500-year-old red bricks from Wales, a massive grand central staircase. and three-inch-thick solid oak doors taken from a fifteenth century castle.
Thornewood’s walls were built 10 inches thick, and its floors separated by 18 inches of concrete and cinder. Seventeen Wilkeson sandstone chimneys punctuate the roof, although nearly half of them were intended to be ornamental. The rest were connected to fireplaces made of Florentine marble. The mansion also housed Thorne’s collection of more than 100 works of stained glass, originally owned by an English duke.
Thorne hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, designer of many noted Seattle parks, to plan the grounds. Before work began, tons of rich Nisqually River soil were carted in and laid over the entire landscape, 18 inches deep. The Olmsteds turned 37 of the estate's 100 acres into a formal English garden, filled with wisteria, purple clematis, climbing hydrangea, and pillar roses.
A sunken garden was built next to the home, off a special room built especially for Thorne’s wife, Anna. All other rooms in the house were designed for lake views, but Anna’s sitting room faced Mount Rainier, overlooking what Anna called her “secret garden.”
The landscape required a full-time staff of 28 gardeners, including a “color gardener” just for the sunken garden, whose job it was to coordinate the different color schemes for each season. Inside the house, a staff of 40 servants took care of the needs of Chester Thorne, his wife, and their daughter Anita (1895-1994).
A Many-Storied House
Over the years, many garden parties, soirees, and fine dinners were held at Thornewood. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft stayed within its walls. In 1926, House Beautiful named the gardens one of the five most beautiful in America.
Chester Thorne passed away in his lake home on October 17, 1927, after a lingering illness. Flags were flown at half-mast throughout Tacoma. By this time, his daughter Anita had married Cadwallader Colden Corse (1896-1980). The young couple lived with their son in the vast mansion.
Three weeks after Thorne’s death, another tragedy struck Thornewood. Two ambulances were sent to the estate, and it is known that one of them left carrying an injured Cadwallader. Newspapers reported that he had suffered an accident when a rifle he was carrying went off, lodging a bullet in his head. The next day his right eyeball was removed, along with the bullet behind it. The true circumstances of this episode have never been publicly explained.
Anita and Cadwallader Corse later divorced, and Anita went on to marry Major General David L. Stone (1876-1959), builder of nearby Fort Lewis. Anna Thorne was elected to the board of directors of her husband’s bank, and continued to oversee her husband’s quiet philanthropy in the community, as well as the mansion and gardens. In 1930, the Garden Club of America chose Thornewood as having the most beautiful garden in America.
In 1937, General Stone was transferred from command of Fort Lewis to the Panama Canal Zone, and he took his wife, Anita, with him. Thornewood became too big and lonely for Anna, and she moved into a Georgian home built at her request at the corner of N 5th Avenue and D Street in Tacoma. When the Stones moved back to Thornewood, Mrs. Thorne returned home. She died there peacefully in 1954.
General Stone passed away in 1959, and Anita Stone sold the house and grounds to Harold St. John, who subdivided the land for 30 home sites. Just over four acres were reserved for the mansion, along with 110 feet of lake front. Zoning was arranged for 10 apartments in the mansion. In 1965, St. John sold the estate to Frank McMillan, who later sold it to Perry Palmer. In 1982, the house was added to the National Register.
Restoration and Rose Red
In the 1980s, resort developer Steve Redwine bought the home, but had to return to Hawaii to work on a hotel development. The house was bought in 1995 by Richard and Debbie Mirau, who began the long process of returning Thornewood to some of its earlier splendor.
The roof hadn’t been cleaned in 50 years, and leaks were everywhere. The Miraus found an old bathroom barricaded by plywood, increasing the total number of lavatories to 23. The most interesting discovery was wishbone-shaped sticks hung from the rafters in the basement. They are believed to be good-luck totems, placed by Native American workmen during the house’s construction in the 1910s.
The sunken garden was later restored and featured in a travelling Smithsonian exhibit, and the mansion was transformed into a bed and breakfast. In 2000, the home was sold to Deanna and Wayne Robinson, who are continuing the renovations, as they welcome guests wishing to relax in a magnificently vast, historic mansion.
In 2001, Thornewood received a big boost from ABC/Disney, which paid for further restoration so the estate could be used in the filming of the television mini-series Rose Red written by Stephen King. The house has the “starring role” as a haunted mansion located in Seattle. Exterior shots of the home were matted into scenes shot in downtown Seattle, giving the illusion that the castle was built by the fictitious Rimbauer family on what is actually Interstate-5.
Upon viewing the mini-series, many may think that this home is one of Seattle’s most splendid historic structures, when in fact it is one of Lakewood’s treasures.