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AIM FOR AUTHENTICITY IN PIONEER'S HOME|
- Rick Pierce
Of The Post-Dispatch
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
- August 8, 2002
- Section: ST. CLAIR-MONROE POST
- Edition: FIVE STAR LIFT
- Page 3
two-story brick home that Benjamin Stephenson built for his family
in 1820 is being painstakingly restored while researchers pore over
records and clues as they try to re-create the original look.
A single cedar shingle found in the attic led the roof to be
redone with cedar shingles. An analysis of the paint on the house
was conducted to help determine when and what colors the house had
been painted. Even the windows will be restored with century-old
glass to provide the slightly distorted look that existed in the
"This is a very important project in the history of Illinois and
of Edwardsville," said Joe Weber of the city's historic preservation
commission. "They just don't come any older or finer."
The home is expected to be completed in December 2003, and
Weber envisions a grand home with gardens and a parking lot at the
old Clark gas station next door. The entire project will cost more
than $1 million - $150,000 for the original home, $725,000 in
restoration costs and $215,000 for the Clark station.
The restored home will be a bit different from the original.
It will have electricity, central air conditioning, heating and
bathrooms. Gardens and landscaping, of course, were unheard of in a
"You have to go modern at some point, even if it is history,"
said Keith Whitener, the head mason on the project.
Whitener's firm, St. Louis Tuckpointing and Painting, is
overseeing the restoration.
The state helped get the project under way with a $500,000
grant. A variety of other groups and individuals have also
contributed money. Several fund-raisers have also been conducted.
Weber said the home is actually being restored to two
periods. The original home was built in 1820, but an addition was
added to the rear in 1845 by another owner. The home had been owned
by many different families over the years, most recently by a
Stephenson is one of the founding fathers of Illinois. He
fought during the War of 1812, attended the state constitutional
convention of 1818 and served as the receiver of public money during
the land grant period, when Madison County covered a vast expanse.
That area took in much of present day Madison County, most of
northern Illinois, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota.
He was a close friend of Ninian Edwards, a territorial
governor and later a state governor for whom the city of
Edwardsville was named. He also knew Auguste Chouteau, one of the
founders of St. Louis. In fact, Stephenson worked with the two men
while negotiating a treaty with the Kickapoo Indians.
Still, Karen Mateyka, also of the historic commission,
concedes that not all that much is known about Stephenson,
especially about his early life. He was born in Pennsylvania to a
father who had fought in the Revolut ionary War. Young Stephenson
lived in what is now West Virginia before migrating to the Illinois
Territory in 1809.
He later would own 182 acres in the center of Edwardsville.
Today, that tract extends from Edwardsville Middle School all the
way to Sheridan Street.
He built the home in 1820, and it was clearly one of the
pre-eminent homes in the city at that time. He was a gentleman
farmer, but as one of the leading citizens of the community he
dabbled in a bit of everything.
For example, he owned a private academy that was one of the
first schools in Edwardsville, helped found a bank and operated a
store. One of the rooms of his new home was pressed into service for
Stephenson would live in the home for only a short period. He
died in 1822.
Mateyka said it is unclear what the 53-year-old Stephenson
died of. Probate records collected from a repository in Carbondale
indicate that a great deal of medicines and herbs used to treat
malaria were purchased during the last few months of Stephenson's
1769: Born in Pennsylvania
1803: Marries a well-to-do woman, Lucy Swearingen of
Martinsburg, Va. (now West Virginia)
1809: Migrates to Illinois Territory
1812: After war is declared, leads campaigns against Indians
allied with British. Achieves rank of colonel
1814-1816: Serves as U.S. representative from the Illinois
1816: Is appointed by President Madison as receiver of public
money in Madison County
1818: Goes to Kaskaskia as representative to the statehood
1819: Helps negotiate treaty with Kickapoo Indians
1820: Builds the home at 409 South Buchanan Street
1822: Dies at his home, probably from malaria
PHOTOS BY DAVID CARSON/POST-DISPATCH -
(1)Photo - Greg
Whitener works on the Col. Benjamin Stephenson House
on South Buchanan Street in Edwardsville. The house is being
restored by the Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission to be
used as a museum.
(2) Photo Headshot - (Joe) Weber, "Important
(3) Photo - The Stephenson House, built in
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