By Bryan Geary
On a beautiful summer evening this past August, Sara Thibeault ’23 was hard at work. Armed with facts and stories plucked from the school’s archives, the soon-to-be Tilton senior played host (along with Head of School Kate Saunders and the Tilton Historical Society) to nearly 300 people who came out to a public Book Fair at the Charles E. Tilton Mansion.
Visitors toured the storied house on the Hill with Thibeault as their guide, explored artifacts on display, and had the chance to take home books from the school’s collection. The event was a small taste of what is in store for the next chapter of the Mansion.
“We’re honoring the past and using that knowledge to forge ahead,” says Saunders. On the heels of landmark exterior renovations during the summer of 2021 — made possible thanks to support from the Masiello Family Foundation and the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) — Tilton received an additional capital gift from the Masiello Family Foundation to begin work on the interior of the Mansion. Through that gift, Saunders says, a summer work position was created for Thibeault. “To find a student who loves history to be a part of this work is an incredible opportunity,” she continues. “Sara’s contributions will be vital as we continue to reimagine the use of this space.”
Tasked with pouring over the nearly two-centuries worth of archives held in the Mansion to both help organize and highlight stories from Tilton’s past, Thibeault’s work this summer not only informed her contributions to the Book Fair, it led her to a remarkable Legacy Project.
“My project is working on sharing this history,” Thibeault explains. “I want to tell the story of the school as a whole, but I’m also hoping to tell the story of the town, the people in it, our shared history, and make this available for the people.”
When it’s finished, her Legacy Project will be a self-designed and curated timeline of Tilton’s history. Thibeault’s work will go on permanent display within the Mansion, an ode to the past in the midst of new initiatives — including learning spaces for the social sciences and the arts — meant to bring the space into the future. As she works, her partnership with local experts has helped her navigate the daunting task of bringing the idea to life.
“I’m working with the Tilton Historical Society, which is something you don’t see often,” Thibeault explains. “Schools working with their archives and local historical societies doesn’t always happen, but this is really such a great group of people who have come together to preserve this history.”
While the timeline takes shape, Thibeault is enjoying the opportunity to dive into the depths of the archives along the way. “There are some stories we’ll never fully know,” she muses. “We have little pieces of evidence, but we don’t have the person who could tell us everything. So we have to face the struggle of how we tell these stories when they are incomplete.”
Stories, she continues, like an old bit of text inside a book from a student in the Class of 1939. “We don’t know who it’s from, but inside of the book there’s a supposed letter that reads:
‘To A. Royal Curl / thank you for pitching me through a door / thank god for angry men.’”
Though it’s a story she’ll never completely unravel, it’s the type of pearl that makes all of this work so fun. Thibeault, who counts historical reenanctment among her many interests, knows that she has the unique opportunity to explore the school and the Mansion in ways that few ever have.
“Ultimately,” she smiles, “this project is about leaving a legacy behind. So that’s what I am trying to do, to leave something behind, and create something for the community to enjoy after I graduate.”