Jane Lucas Thornhill loved Charleston. She loved its architectural heritage and devoted her time and talents to preserving it. She loved telling visitors about the city’s history and its fine old buildings.
It was that love that inspired her to take a course so she could become the city’s second licensed tour guide. But it was her tenacious devotion to preserving what is not just beautiful but also key to historic Charleston’s authenticity that put her in the forefront of the preservation movement.
Mrs. Thornhill accomplished much of her work through the Preservation Society of Charleston. As a member and president of the society’s board, she spoke forcefully on projects being considered by the Board of Architectural Review. She also kept abreast of major issues concerning the peninsula and made certain her well-informed voice was heard. For example, she drove efforts to stop the James Island connector from spilling onto Broad Street. Routing it to Calhoun Street instead was far better for the city.
Jane Thornhill had her eyes and ears open all the time for threats to the historic city. She picked up a lot of information on her regular walks. She also picked up a lot of trash. Indeed, the city’s Clean City Commission dubbed her the Queen of Clean because she walked with a bag at the ready to scoop up paper cups, cigarette packs or whatever else she found that didn’t belong there. Once, she picked up a wad of paper trash. It turned out to be $17. In recent years, she became an advocate for recycling, writing a letter to the editor strongly encouraging all to join her in reducing their carbon footprints.
Over her adult life, Mrs. Thornhill received multiple honors for her efforts in preservation, including the Susan Pringle Frost Award for “long-term, voluntary, dedicated and unqualified devotion” to historic preservation, and the Charleston Federation of Women’s Woman of the Year Award for going “above and beyond her own personal gain” to benefit the entire community.
She also served as president of the Charleston Association for the Blind, and as a board member for Winthrop College. She was a graduate of Ashley Hall and the College of Charleston and was an active alumna at both schools.
One of her more memorable stands was an actual one. She, along with her friend and fellow preservationist Liz Young, stood in the path of a bulldozer to prevent it from razing a building at the College of Charleston. Even the bigger-than-life Ted Stern, then president of the College of Charleston, gave in to the pair. The building is still part of the campus.
She also spoke her mind to British comic Sasha Baron Cohen, who, while posing as an Eastern European journalist named Borat, engaged her to give him a tour of Middleton Place. Cohen has duped people including the Queen Mum and a Roman Catholic archbishop. Mrs. Thornhill simply dismissed his inappropriate questions as ridiculous and continued with her tour.
Jane Lucas Thornhill died Tuesday, leaving behind a more authentic, well-preserved and, yes, well-loved Charleston.