What makes the Thompson House particularly special is the contents, and some of the students at Ross Montessori would be happy to tell you all about them.
“Almost everything here belonged to the Thompsons, and it really gives you a better idea of how people actually lived,” Oliver, one of several students taking a junior docent master class, explained. “I bike past it every day on my way to school, and I always wondered about it.”
The program seems like a perfect fit for the K-8 charter school, which sits just north of the historic house on Lewies Lane. Head of School Sonya Hemmen is a history buff herself, and coordinated the program with Bonnie Williams, a Carbondale Historical Society board member who headed up the summer tours.
“I think they have a really unique perspective on current life and the future, and it gives them a great base,” Hemmen said. “This is just an eight-week class and I think they look like they’ve been doing it forever.”
It also helps build confidence, Docent Averie pointed out.
Williams’ own tours focus heavily on the family, but she sees the kids’ focus on artifacts as a good route into history, too.
“They wrote themselves scripts for each room,” she said. “It’s awfully adorable.”
The junior docents will give tours to groups of up to 10 by appointment on Fridays — call 640-9214 for a reservation. Donning white museum gloves, they’ll show you through the home that’s “just what it would be like if you just walked in 50 years ago,” according to Docent A.J.
“I think it’s a real privilege that we get to tour a historical space like this. Most kids in the country don’t get to do that,” he added.
Docents Jasmine and Amethyst will tell you the story of the time that Hattie Thompson, wheelchair bound due to a stroke, responded to her maid’s insistence on strawberries in for lunch by locking her the cellar and only letting her out when the woman’s kids showed up and heard her banging on the door.
Docent Will might point out that, although the place may be old fashioned, it was a lot fancier than most area homes of the time, sharing glass and tile features with the Redstone Castle.
Indeed, it was one of the first houses in Carbondale to have electricity, which it put to use in a wooden washing machine and a Victrola that can still bring forth a tinny rendition of “Swanee River.”
“It still works and it’s really old,” Docent Yesenia said of the latter. “It’s very classical and calming.”
Although they had yet to learn any of the dances in the instruction book Hattie had at parties, she and Docent Laura shared a certain nostalgia, viewing life in those days as simpler and more self contained. Jasmine, though, was glad for modern comforts.
“I’m proud of them for getting this far, but it really shows you how much we’ve grown,” she said.
Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed the marks on the walls recording the heights of the kids. Otherwise… “What we have today is so different from what they had, from the tables to the kitchen supplies,” Oliver observed.
Some speak to the time, others to the people. In addition to the steamer trunk with stickers from all over the world, the kids connect the dots to reconstruct a trip and solve “The Lighthouse Lodge mystery.”
And many mysteries remain, Laura noted. The calendars Hattie kept long past their years are blank of appointments or other notes. But what we do know will live on in another generation.
“Please come check this thing out,” Laura said.