If you like photography—whether you’re an amateur or seasoned professional—you likely have a favorite spot or two for whipping out your camera whenever you get the chance. I am no different.
Just a few months after moving to St. Louis, I stumbled across a location that I’ve come back to time and again—with friends and by myself, for my own engagement and wedding photos, and even recently to try out my first ‘real’ big girl camera. Every time I return, I know where to head for reliably beautiful backdrops. And so far, it’s never failed that a different aspect of this place has captured my attention and imagination, whether I’m in front of or behind the lens.
This place is Thornhill Estate. Tucked behind Faust Park in Chesterfield, Thornhill is where Frederick Bates, Missouri’s second governor, called home.
The estate is comprised of a stately white house and a collection of well-preserved barns and other outbuildings, all perched atop a sloping hill at the end of a long gravel drive. Dotted with features like rows of mature trees, a period vegetable garden, and an open expanse of field, the grounds are filled with photo opportunities from end to end.
According to a site history I found from St. Louis County Parks, Gov. Frederick Bates had the house constructed around 1820 in a style inspired by homes from his native state of Virginia. Shown above, one feature of the home (when viewed from the front) is a symmetrical floor plan.
I first discovered Thornhill while exploring Faust Park with a good friend. After walking around the front of the park outside the Butterfly House, a popular attraction Faust Park is known for, we drove through the roundabout skirting the Butterfly House to see what else we could find. As we started down a gravel drive that appeared to be an extension of the park, we almost questioned whether we were entering private property. But as the beautiful farm came into view up the hill, I realized we had just stumbled upon a gem of a historic site. A sign at the wood fence separating the property from the parking lot confirmed that it was okay to explore.
I’m pretty sure my friend and I had the entirety of Thornhill to ourselves during that initial visit—and that’s something that has struck me every time I’ve gone back. There are typically not many people there. This scarcity of visitors adds to the appeal of this unique location as a backdrop, or the main attraction, for some serious photography, because there is no competition for the best vantage point or frustration of needing to crop or edit people out of your photos.
After I got engaged, one of my best friends agreed to come to St. Louis and do an engagement session for Nathan and me. We ended up doing two locations: the Gateway Arch (which is where we got engaged), and Thornhill Estate. I must say, Sarah Jacquel Photography did a pretty good job.
We got some beautiful images in front of the dark wood barn that I admired so much the first time I saw it, as well as other locations throughout the property. It was fall, so the field beside the house offered another gorgeous backdrop. On a side note, every season is an ideal time of year to visit Thornhill. In autumn, the golden color of the field makes for an awesome background, and in June, the edges of of the same field are filled with soft purple flowers.
When Nathan and I got married in 2015, we went back to Thornhill after the reception for a special photoshoot with our wonderful photographer, Woven Bone Photography.
Once again, we got some photos in front of the dark wood barn, as well as the front of the house, and other locations around the property. And like almost every time I’ve been there, we barely encountered anyone. That made it much easier to relax and be ourselves, which I think showed through in our photos.
For me, Thornhill is an oasis from a busy and fast paced life. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the everyday. This place forces me out of that. I never expected I’d end up living and working in a larger metropolitan area, so it was an unexpected treat to find this undisturbed piece of land—and slice of history. Each step into the property takes me further back in time and allows me to wonder and marvel at the beauty around me. I’ve always left feeling refreshed… and mentally planning my next Thornhill visit.
So all of this is to say, if you’re in St. Louis and looking for a good location for a photo op, you now know my personal favorite and best kept secret. Feel free to share some images if you get out that way!
Know Before You Go
Address: 15185 Olive Blvd, Chesterfield, MO 63017
Hours: 7 a.m. to a half hour past official sunset.
Facilities: Bathrooms are available near the front of Faust park by the playground area. There are some picnic tables on a hill behind the main house (pictured above).
Trails: The Governor Bates Trail (named for the governor who resided at Thornhill) is just over a mile long and begins at the estate. It’s rated as difficult (as of this post, I haven’t yet hiked it).
General Info: If you’re a thorough explorer, you could spend over an hour poking through the nooks and crannies of the Thornhill grounds. The rest of Faust Park offers a variety of attractions, like a historic village, playground, the Butterfly House (which is managed by the Missouri Botanical Gardens), and the Carousel.