Hope Plantation has new hired hand

Published 10:04 am Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WINDSOR – The new administrator at Historic Hope Plantation knows her job from the ground up – literally.

Julie Bledsoe Thomas is a native of Lexington, KY, but says her family’s roots are in South Carolina. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Furman University in Greenville, SC and master’s degree in history at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA.

While at William and Mary, Thomas was able to get into an archaeology apprentice program for two years. During those years she realized most of her time was spent digging in dirt in summer heat or digging in ice along James River in the winter. It made her decide that archaeology might not be a wise career choice.

So she began a year’s internship at Biltmore House in Asheville and remained two more years as a full-time employee. It was during her time there that the third floor of the house was opened to the public.

When an assistant curator position with the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources opened in the Greensboro area, she took the job to oversee several historic sites in northeastern North Carolina. This job allowed her to become more involved in early colonial American architecture and furniture, which she realized was the work that interested her most.

Two months later she met her husband, Reid Thomas, Restoration Specialist with N.C. Historic Preservation Office. He had already purchased the 1830s Ballard-Salisbury House at Hassell in Martin County and didn’t want to move. She relocated her office to Greenville until the administrator’s position at Hope Plantation became available and went to work here on September 15, 2008.

Thomas’ actual job title is Tourism Development Officer, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development with the N. C. Department of Commerce. She is administrator at Hope under that position.

When asked what is the biggest challenge facing Historic Hope today, Thomas replied that the economic slump, rising fuel costs and children who prefer electronics to history have combined to shrink tourism across the state. The depressed economy also affects donations to non-profits.

“But people who love Hope and are loyal to Hope always come through,” Thomas said.

Historic Hope always has a schedule of special events to attract visitors, including a special Black History Celebration scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on February 7.

The annual program will focus on African-American community leaders. Dr. Benjamin Speller, Hope’s past president and Chairmen of the African-American Committee, invited Alice Eley Jones of Murfreesboro to share her personal research and lead a discussion entitled “African-American Legislators in North Carolina 1868-1901”.

The Elizabeth Ives Lecture Series in April will sponsor a symposium on “Plantations at the Crossroads”, examining the life and genealogy of slaves at Hope and elsewhere. The Hope Gala is planned for May 2.

In a time of a shrinking dollar, Thomas said if someone walked in the door today and made a $1 million donation to Historic Hope, she would want to invest funds that endowed permanent positions for increased staff. Increased staff would mean more activities. Her second move would be to increase maintenance and repair on the site’s buildings to ensure that future generations see Hope at its best.

When Thomas has spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, traveling and old black and white movies.