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RESTORERS 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

The 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 original home.

"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 frontier home.

"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 fraternity.

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 county offices.

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 life.

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Benjamin Stephenson

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 Territory

1816: Is appointed by President Madison as receiver of public money in Madison County

1818: Goes to Kaskaskia as representative to the statehood convention

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 project"
(3) Photo - The Stephenson House, built in 1820.



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2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch