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 • Abilene
 • Taylor County
 • Texas
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Charles Eugene "Gene" Thornton
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Birth: Feb. 26, 1920
Abilene
Taylor County
Texas, USA
Death: Jun. 18, 1965
Abilene
Taylor County
Texas, USA

Gene was the son of E.L. Thornton, owner of "A City Within Itself", who came to Texas and the Big Country in 1919 from Arkansas. [His father had died on 10 May 1918 in Boone Co., AR, leaving a widow and several young children.] E.L. had an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, a new wife, and no money when he arrived in Texas. That same year, 1919, he bought a fruit stand for $350 and sales grew. Soon E.L. and his family were able to add produce, meats, and everyday items to the store. He also had a [Studebaker] car dealership as well as his department store. Thornton, the oldest of seven [actually second oldest of seven "full" siblings], found a place for his brothers to work in his store as well as sisters and brothers-in-law.

Thornton's Department store grew and became the first shopping center in the Big Country before shopping centers were common. Despite it's growing size, E.L. still knew everyone that shopped in his store. ......

The store provided for E.L. and his family and when his only child, a son named Gene, was a teenager he was put to work at the family store. Gene, who grew to an enormous size early in life, resented being called "fatty". He had decided that he no longer wanted to work in the store and eventually volunteered for the military and lost his childhood and adolescent weight. E.L. wanted his only heir to learn the business and work beside him and when Gene chose not to it caused problems for him and his father. [Gene attended McMurry College before WWII and had his own Band.] Gene went over seas and became a captain with decorations from the Battle of the Bulge. When he returned home after the war, he went back to work beside his father in the family store [However, Gene focused his attentions on and managed the Studebaker auto dealership that his father had started before WWII].

[Gene married Melba HAMILTON and they, like his parents, had only one child, Ginger Thornton ( Aug. 22, 1943 - Dec. 25, 2007)]

Thornton's Department Store grew and soon became know as "A City Within Itself." It now occupied the entire block of Oak street. Unfortunately on the night of March 6, 1959 a fire struck the store. Insurance covered one third of the loss. E.L. and his family didn't give up. Thornton's was rebuilt as rumors of the family starting the fire circulated around town. Then a second fire sprang up in February 1961. This time a man was caught in Houston for arson and admitted to starting the fires at Thornton's. This time insurance covered ninety percent of the damages and once again the store was rebuilt bigger and better than before. Now instead of giving away a car every Christmas Eve, Thornton's created magnificent window displays that would attract customers from all around the area.

Stress and hard work began to eat away at E.L. Thornton. He began to experience heart problems. On December 6, 1964 E.L. died. His store was left to his son Gene, who died six and one half months later from cancer. Thornton's Department store was then sold to a company out of St. Louis called P.N. Hirsh & Co. The Hirsh Company kept the Thornton name but closed in December 1985. Thornton's Department Store is now the Abilene-Taylor County Law Enforcement Center after the Thornton family gave the building and grounds to Taylor County in 1986.

Resources:

Coffey, David; Donald S. Frazier and Tracy Shilcutt. Historic Abilene San Antonio: Historical Publishing Network, 2000.

Zachry, Juanita Daniel A Living History: Taylor County and the Big Country. Abilene: Quality Printing, 1999.

Note: [Bracketed comments contain the edits of Logan]

 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  Elt Lee Thornton (1896 - 1964)
  Bertie L. Rasey Thornton (1902 - 1994)
 
 Spouse:
  Ida Melba Hamilton Thornton (1923 - 1995)*
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Elmwood Memorial Park
Abilene
Taylor County
Texas, USA
Plot: SD C 27 (3)
 
Created by: Wes Tex
Record added: Mar 21, 2013
Find A Grave Memorial# 107042676
Charles Eugene Gene Thornton
Added by: Wes Tex
 
Charles Eugene Gene Thornton
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Richard and Mary
 
 
Photos may be scaled.
Click on image for full size.

He served in the U.S. Army.
- Judy Richards
 Added: Jun. 3, 2014

- Judy Richards
 Added: Jun. 3, 2014
 
 
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