210616 PHOTO Ellen Rae Heritage Center Aleka - 1

Ellen Rae Thiel, vice president of The Heritage Center in Boulder, poses for a photograph in front of the museum’s photograph archives on June 14, 2021.

The Heritage Center in Boulder will reopen its doors on June 21, just in time to welcome in the summer, according to the museum's vice president, Ellen Rae Thiel. 

In celebration of its return after a 15-month hiatus, Thiel said, the Heritage Center will be serving lemonade and cookies all through the opening week. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday, and unvaccinated visitors will be required to wear masks, Thiel said. 

Thiel has been working on cleaning and organizing the museum to prepare for the opening and is excited to have visitors again.

"I like to see people," she said, adding that her colleagues, Nancy Alley and Shirley Rogers, haven’t been able to come in recently. "I don’t like working alone, to tell you the truth."

According to Thiel, although the museum closed to visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 17, 2020, Rogers, Alley and she still came in and worked while the center was closed. 

During the closure, Thiel said, they worked on storing archival photographs in the computer database Past Perfect to make the photographs easier to locate. Previously, photographs were stored only in physical boxes and photo albums, and Thiel said she often couldn’t find the photos visitors were looking for. 

"I know who brought what, and what all the different stuff is. But I’m not always going to be here," she said. "This way everybody will be able to know."

Like many other businesses, Thiel said the Heritage Center suffered during the pandemic. As a nonprofit, the museum receives the majority of its archival material and funding from donations. Because members of the public could not visit and experience the Heritage Center, Thiel said, the center "missed out" on many donations. She said that she felt thankful for the See N Save thrift shop’s Christmas donation of $1,000 and for a grant the museum received from the Elkhorn Foundation.

County Commissioner Cory Kirsch said he was glad to hear of the Heritage Center's reopening. He said it was "about time" everything starts opening back up, adding that the Heritage Center is a "great resource" for those who want to learn more about the community and its history.

According to Thiel, the Heritage Center’s building was originally a bank built in 1888. The original bank vault adorns the back wall of the museum—it stores some of the center’s archives, including Ellen Lacy’s wedding dress from the mid-19th century, Thiel said. The historic building was established as the Heritage Center in 2009. 

"When we first opened we didn’t have anything. Now we’re crammed with stuff," Thiel said, laughing.

The museum is indeed packed with photographs, portraits found in people's attics, vintage clothing, rotary-dial telephones, heavy old books and other memorabilia. The archives tell a deeply personal story of not only Jefferson County, but also the many people who lived here over centuries.

"We’re a touchy-feely kind of museum," Thiel said, explaining that visitors are permitted to flip through books and closely examine the center's exhibits. 

Thiel said she thinks it’s important to have the museum open to teach people the history of Jefferson County. A century ago, she said, area residents lived through another pandemic: the 1918 Spanish flu. 

"When you read back, it was pretty much the same," she said. "Schools closed down and people had to quarantine, and businesses closed."

Thiel said during that time, some young men from Boulder caught the Spanish flu while at camp for the Army and were brought back home, treated at the county hospital and buried in the Boulder Cemetery. 

Kirsch added that in addition to being a great historical resource to the community, the Heritage Center is a "good attraction" to draw visitors.

"It's such a neat place," he said, "and it's always great to have more to do in Boulder."

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