Landon Thomas, Jr. came to Augusta, Georgia after graduating from Bethany College. He married Mary “Minnie” Fleming Thomas, and the couple had five children. Soon after, he founded the Fleming and Thomas banking firm. In 1886, the couple purchased a home from the General Thomas Flournoy estate. Unfortunately, that home burned down in 1890. This impressive house was built in its place around 1893. Named “Cloister Garth” by Mrs. Thomas, the house features an eclectic design in the Queen Anne architectural style while also incorporating many Colonial Revival details. Typical of the Queen Anne style, its wall are constructed of stone, brick, and wood with a red clay tile roof. Its asymmetrical layout has an unusual floor plan, even for a Victorian-era house. Hardwood floors, parquet flooring, moldings, and millwork are throughout the main rooms. It sits on three acres and has eight bedrooms and six baths. Oversized double-hung windows are in many of the rooms with a Palladian window on the first floor. The front entrance incorporates a porte-cochère at a slight angle of the front porch, balanced on the other side of the house with a sun porch. There are numerous service areas, accessory buildings, and a formal garden on the property. Over its history, the Thomas family entertained many local luminaries and prominent visitors like President William Howard Taft and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Rucker Lamar.
In 1897, Thomas became associated with the John P. King Manufacturing Company, a local textile mill where his family held a controlling interest. The following year, he became president of the mill, and later, the chairman of the board of directors.
In 1923, his wife Mary suffered a stroke and sadly passed away the next day. The news of his wife’s passing came as a great shock to their friends and the community. Following his wife’s death, Landon Thomas, Jr. continued to live at Cloister Garth until he passed away in 1944. His son, Landon A. Thomas III, became president of the King Mill in 1926 when his father retired. His influence was strongly felt in the textile industry throughout the South for many years.
Cloister Garth would continue to remain in the family. His nephew would soon be the next heir to take up residence at the opulent estate. Landon Thomas Jr. had a sister named Emily Thomas Clay, who had three children. Harris Clay was born in 1927 in New York City. After attending Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, he graduated with honors from Harvard College, Class of 1950. Clay also attended Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School. He went on to serve in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war ended, he returned to Georgia to work at the family’s textile mill.
Harris Clay continued the proud traditions of his family, a family that had made distinguished contributions to the political, social, and economic history of the United States. He was the great-grandson of Brutus Junius Clay, the son of a wealthy and influential political family in Kentucky. Brutus Junius served in the Kentucky House of Representatives and in 1863 was elected to the United States House of Representatives on the Union Democratic ticket. Harris Clay was a cousin of Senator Henry Clay, known as the ‘Great Compromiser’, and brother to Cassius Marcellus Clay, the prominent champion of emancipation. Cassius Marcellus’s daughters, Laura and Mary Barr Clay, were leading members of the women’s suffrage movement. In 1920, Laura Clay was a candidate for the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, the first woman to mount a serious challenge for the Presidency.
On his mother’s side, Harris was a great grandson of Landon A. Thomas, a nephew of the famous businesswoman and philanthropist Emily Harvie Thomas Tubman, who had grown up under the guardianship of Henry Clay. Emily Tubman was also intolerant of slavery, freeing all her family’s slaves when she inherited her husband’s estate in 1836. Many of the slaves settled in Liberia, where William Tubman, the grandson of two of her freed slaves, served as President from 1944 until 1971. Emily Tubman founded the textile mill in Augusta with which the Clay family would later be associated with.
As a businessman, Harris Clay found success with Minot, Hooper & Company in New York and later as CEO of the J.P. King Manufacturing Company. In the 1960s, Harris and his brother Cassius Clay focused the mill’s production on institutional healthcare products. Spartan Mill purchased King Mill in 1968. After the mill sold, Harris studied geology and was president of Arctic Coast Petroleum and Mink Mining in Canada. Harris Clay passed away at Cloister Garth in 2015 at the age of 88. In his will, he gave the first right of refusal of the property to the neighboring church. The church purchased the home but has never done anything with the property. Although never abandoned, the home has sat vacant since 2015 and remains one of the only unrestored late 19th century mansions in Georgia. The property is currently listed for sale for $1.5 million.
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