For Thornblad, keeping the colony’s legacy means doing ‘a little bit of everything’ | Local News
Sofia Thornblad was 13 when she first set foot in the Horatio Colony House museum in downtown Keene for a friend’s birthday party.
“So that was my first experience here, and I remember going through the rooms and thinking how cool it would be to live here,” said Thornblad, 27.
Now she lives in the house at 199 Main Street, where she works as the museum’s general manager. In the role – which she began last December, following the retirement of longtime director Anita Carroll-Weldon – Thornblad also oversees the 645-acre Horatio Colony nature reserve on Daniels Hill Road.
And in the nine months since starting the new role, the fear of living in the director’s apartment on the second floor of the historic house has yet to fade, Thornblad said.
“The apartment itself is really very beautiful, and the fact that I walk through the door of my apartment and step back in time is always cool,” she said.
The house was built in 1806 and became a museum in 1977 upon the death of Horatio Colony II, whose grandfather Horatio Colony I was the first mayor of Keene. The Colony family also co-founded the Faulkner and Colony Woolen Mill, a site that today houses an apartment complex on West Street.
Thornblad, who was born in Bennington and moved to Keene when she was 16, said her interest in this kind of story started at a young age.
“I’ve always loved history,” she says. “And being able to see so much of this story firsthand and learn from it is, I think, a really valuable experience. History helps us understand how we got to where we are today.
She attended ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough for two years, before moving to Keene and graduating from Keene High School in 2013. Thornblad stayed near her home for college, attending the ‘Keene State, where she majored in Holocaust and genocide studies and obtained a minor in German.
“I started taking art history classes which really caught my interest,” she said. “But more importantly, I would say that I’ve always had a pretty deep curiosity about the Holocaust and human suffering in general, and why it happens and how the world can allow such things. So I started taking classes in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program and very quickly found out that I felt like this was what I was supposed to do.
During her last semester of university, she studied abroad at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, where she also became interested in museum work during an internship at the Jewish Museum of Galicia. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she worked for a year at Hannaford in Keene before starting a master’s program in museum studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
“The idea behind earning a Masters in Museum Studies was to broaden my horizons beyond Holocaust and Genocide studies, as my interest in museum work had more to do with, basically, all museums and history in general, ”Thornblad mentioned.
The one-and-a-half-year master’s program had a strong internship focus. For Thornblad, this included a three-month stay at the Horatio Colony House Museum in the summer of 2019, where she guided tours of the property and helped Carroll-Weldon research upcoming exhibits.
“Working with Anita was awesome,” Thornblad said. “That’s one of the perks of having this museum essentially a one-woman exhibit – I basically learned the job, in terms of the front parts. It was very helpful. And then, when she retired, I already had in mind a place where I would like to work.
Thornblad’s internship also introduced her to Paul Bocko, professor of education at Antioch University in New England in Keene and project manager of the Horatio Colony Nature Reserve. (The Colony Memorial Trust, a nonprofit organization governed by trustees and an advisory board, has contracted with Antioch since the 1980s to manage the nature reserve.)
“For such a young person, she had so much together and was so passionate about her other interests in history and Holocaust studies,” Bocko said of his experience with Thornblad during his internship. “… It’s great to have invited her to apply for the position of CEO and to get it.” “
Thornblad and Bocko work closely to maintain the lands of the nature reserve, which includes 5 miles of public hiking trails, and to develop public programs and educational opportunities for local schools. Since Thornblad took over in December, Bocko has said she has embraced every aspect of the role.
“She has such an energy to learn and to find out more about Horatio Colony II. Everything is relatively new to her, but she really dove into the journals and all the documents. So it’s wonderful to see her and learn with her, ”he said. “… She is an asset to the community. She really is, and it’s just a great example of a great program, a great aspect of our community that she pursues.
Looking ahead, Thornblad – who lives with her two cats, Cosmo and Figaro, and receives regular visits from her boyfriend Graham Bradler of Temple – said she sees a bright future for the museum.
“This museum has so much potential,” she said. “I want to continue to connect even more with the Keene community. There is more and more history that can be brought to light in terms of the museum, collections, the Colony family, etc.
Specifically, she said she wanted to establish an internship program more cohesive with Keene State College and expand the museum’s appeal to younger people. Already during the COVID-19 pandemic, this effort included organizing online events and strengthening the museum’s social media presence, even adding Instagram and TikTok accounts.
“TikTok has been really fun,” she laughed. “It’s small. We haven’t gone viral or anything, but it’s a really cool way to connect with people all over the world.
The pandemic has limited the programming Thornblad has been able to lead this year, but she said the outdoor space – both on the home grounds and in the nature reserve – has been a blessing. Visits to the house resumed in July, she said, and will continue, by appointment, until October 15. Over the winter, Thornblad said she would budget for the coming year, plan maintenance projects, and research next year’s exhibits.
“What’s so cool about this job is that you can do a little bit of everything,” she said. “You can do the housekeeping, you have to do the budget planning, the research, learn how to take care of an old house. There is so much in there, and everyday life is never the same.