If you’re looking for a location steeped in history that still clings to rich traditions, Thornton is a perfect place. It sits alongside Interstate 5 on the northernmost corner of San Joaquin County.
Each October, thousands come to the town to pay homage to Fatima, a title given to the Virgin Mary as she appeared in apparitions reported by three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal.
North Sacramento Boulevard, the street that houses two of Thornton's most prominent locations — New Hope School and Mater Ecclesiae Catholic Church — is transformed into a walkway during the celebration weekend with vendors selling souvenirs and other items.
The annual festival is also a joyous time, with young ladies becoming queens and princesses, a free meal for attendees, parades, an auction, music, dancing and two bloodless bullfights in St. John’s Arena, located behind the Portuguese Hall.
The bullfights are dubbed “bloodless” because killing bulls is illegal in the United States. The arena, located behind the Portuguese Hall, is filled to the brim. However, you’ll have to figure out what’s going on because the announcer speaks only in Portuguese.
Thornton’s small business and residential area is located east of Interstate 5 off Walnut Grove Road. The town has considerable farm land on both sides of the freeway.
Only eight miles from the Delta community of Walnut Grove, Thornton is close to several waterways. The Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers meet in Thornton.
Wimpy’s Marina, three miles west of I-5, is in the western edge of Thornton, just east of the San Joaquin-Sacramento county line. Wimpy’s has a restaurant, bar, boat launching and a mobile home park. Fishing is plentiful at trhe marina, which is on the south fork of the Mokelumne River.
Just north of Thornton in Sacramento County is the Cosumnes River Preserve, where visitors can walk on trails and learn about fish, birds and other wildlife in the Delta. The preserve is northeast of I-5 and Walnut Grove Road.
There is one school in Thornton, New Hope Elementary. It serves approximately 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Upon middle school graduation, most students attend Galt or Liberty Ranch high schools in nearby Galt.
The city’s Portuguese Hall is the community meeting place, offering three sites that residents can rent for parties or attend a public event.
Thornton is a predominately Catholic community. Mater Ecclesiae Catholic Church, located on North Sacramento Boulevard near New Hope School, is a mission church operated by St. Anne’s in Lodi.
San Joaquin County officials — who govern Thornton since it is an unincorporated city — prepared plans to spruce up the small business area. When the economy recovers, Thornton Road will get some sidewalks, trees, and lighting between Mokelumne Avenue and Walnut Grove Road. Plans also call for traffic circles at the Sacramento-Thornton-Walnut Grove road intersection and at the Thornton-Mokelumne intersection.
Like many towns along the region’s waterways, Thornton was founded near the Mokelumne River’s edge and the river was its lifeline. Mokelumne City, the first town in the area, was located three miles north of current-day Thornton. The creation of the Lower Sacramento Road in 1853, through Woodbridge, connected Stockton to Sacramento and helped the area grow, according to the Galt Area Historical Society.
At that time, the Snap brothers opened a general store, and the town provided supplies to the miners in the Mother Lode. Mokelumne City boasted 23 houses, a hotel and a lumberyard.
As the Gold Rush ended, the trade to the mining camps lessened, and Mokelumne City began to decline, historical documents show. The final blow came in 1862 when a flood swept 19 houses away and took out all the bridges across the Mokelumne.
After several name changes, the name Thornton was chosen when Arthur Thornton, who owned 1,000 acres of land, offered the right-of-way through his land with the belief a new railroad would bring business to the town, then known as New Hope. Thornton had come to the area from Scotland in 1865 and operated the town’s general store, Post Office and Wells Fargo office.
The Western Pacific honored Thornton by naming their new station and large freight depot after him. The town was officially renamed Thornton five years later on Nov. 26, 1909, according to the Galt Area Historical Society.