Edwardsville Intelligencer
Thursday, May 10, 2001

Events set at Stephenson House - Restoration to begin on House erected in 1820

By Donna London
Of the Intelligencer

The community is invited to attend unveiling and ground-breaking ceremonies for the restoration of the 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House next week. Starting off National Historic Preservation Week, the ceremonies will be held Monday, May 14, at 4:30 p.m. at 409 South Buchanan Street on the grounds of what is believed to be the oldest brick house in Madison County. Originally built from native materials by local craftsmen several miles southeast of Edwardsville, the Federal style two-story brick home is one of the few remaining homes in Illinois built in the first quarter of the 19th century, according to the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency. Each of the four rooms has original millwork and two of the original mantels designed in the Adams style.

The ground breaking will officially signal the beginning of the restoration of this 180-year-oldlandmark, the most extensive and important historic restoration project in the city's 183-year history, said Joe Weber, member of Edwardsville's Historic Preservation Commission and co-chair of the Friends of Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House board. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980, the house is an historical treasure from the earliest period of Edwardsville and the Illinois territory, said Carol Wetzel, chair of the Friends of Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House board. Built two-years after Illinois was admitted to the unions by one of the framers of the state constitution, the house was the location where many early political leaders met, discussed business and were entertained by Stephenson and his wife, Lucy. A home where Ninian Edwards, territorial governor, and his family lived after their home, located at the present site of St. Boniface Catholic Church, was destroyed by fire. Born in Pennsylvania in 1769, Stephenson originally migrated westward into the Illinois territory in 1809 when he was appointed to serve as the first sheriff of Randolph County. A representative in the U.S. Congress from the Illinois Territory from1814-1816, on April 29, 1816, President James Madison appointed Stephenson to be the first receiver of public monies at Edwardsville in Madison County, at a time when the northern border of Madison County reached Canada. A state representative to the convention in Kaskaskia to frame the first Illinois constitution in 1818, a year later Stephenson assisted Edwards and Auguste Choteau in negotiating a treaty for the United States to purchase land from the Kickapoo Indians in what became central Illinois. Also, in 1819, Stephenson and Edwards petitioned for land to be annexed into Edwardsville, laid out the area in street and blocks and built their homes in what would become upper-Edwardsville.
An architect's rendering of the proposed restoration of the house will be unveiled Monday when completed the home will be open to the public as a house museum depicting the life and times in early Edwardsville from 1816-1837; complete with trained docents interpreting the early 1800's. The museum will be administered by the not-for-profit board, the Friends of the Col. Benjamin Stephenson House, Weber said.
While the goal of HPC and Friends is to restore the home, furnish it in accordance with the Stephenson household inventory of 1822 and open it to the public as a living hands-on museum, as work begins on phase I, they have also begun to actively seek funds to complete the restoration. Costs associated with the project are high given the nature and quality of workmanship required, said Wetzel. This restoration project offers individuals, organizations and corporations with an excellent opportunity to help preserve a piece of our region's early heritage. Both present and future generations will gain an increased understanding of our community's historic significance because of the preservation efforts undertaken with this project. The first attempt to obtain the property for its historical value was in 1972. A bill sponsored by the late State Sen. Sam Vadalabene was designed to restore the Stephenson house and name it a state historic site to be opened to the public. The bill was passed by the state legislature but vetoed by the governor, Weber said. Following a request by the city's Historic Preservation Commission in 1998 state Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, obtained a $500,000 grant to purchase and restore the house.
Known as "the frathouse next door to the Clark station" for several decades, the house was purchased from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity in 1999 for $150,000. Since that time, a Historic Structures Report has been completed by restoration architects Jack Luer Associates of St. Louis in conjunction with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. According to that report enough remained of the original structure to warrant restoring the building to its original 1820 appearance. Also discovered during research, are the extremely valuable probate records revealing the home's inventory at the death of Stephenson in 1822. Not only do the records reveal how the home was furnished, such as the number of Windsor chairs, the records show that Stephenson paid a local craftsman to turn 10-feet of beading, for one of the Adams-style mantels at a cost of $1.75.
The restoration project has been divided into four phases. Each phase will be completed based on funds available and raised. So far bids have been let for phase I totaling $328,000 and will include installation of period windows, a shingled roof and interior and exterior masonry restoration. Phase II includes reconstruction of the interior, the back porch, courtyard and grounds and a summer kitchen at an estimated cost of $505,981. Phase III will replace the household furnishing based on the 1822 inventory at an estimated cost of $207,650.
The public is also invited to attend an unveiling of a memorial marker honoring Stephenson on Sunday, May 20, at 1:00 at Lusk Memorial Cemetery Park on Randle Street, the site of his final resting place, said Weber. There will be an appearance by the Illinois Rangers portraying the Ranger Unit to which Col. Stephenson was attached during the War of 1812. The program will also feature a performance by the Edwardsville Municipal Band.