Edwardsville Intelligencer
Thursday, October 18, 2001

Peeking inside the Stephenson House
Residents have opportunity to see restoration project

By Donna London

No longer known as the "Frat House" next door to the Clark Station, the Col. Benjamin Stephenson House stands for the first time as it did sometime during construction in 1820. Once again the house placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 is down to the bare bricks, which were molded on the site during Edwardsville's frontier days.
Residents will have the opportunity Saturday to "Take-A-Peek" at the four room, two story Federal-style house built by local skilled craftsmen in only the second decade after the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery left the shore of the Mississippi River in Illinois Territory to explore the unknown west and find a possible water route to the Pacific Ocean.
Believed by many to be the oldest brick house in Madison County, it was originally located on a 182-acre farm two-miles from the heart of Edwardsville, which was still located along the bluff ridges of Cahokia Creek. Today the house stands along one of the busiest stretches of Route 159 near the center of town at 409 South Buchanan Street.
Saturday's "Take-A-Peek" offers residents the chance to check on the progress of restoration of the house with stabilization and weather proofing in progress by E.J. Holley and his St. Louis Tuckpointing and Painting Company. From noon to 4 p.m. visitors can look in the windows to view the house in its most basic state; without interior walls, ceilings, wood door or floor moldings or the Adams-styled mantels.

A hands-on-type of president with experience working on restoration projects across the country, Holley said the house has revealed good workmanship from that era. Expected to be completed in February, Phase I of the restoration project includes stabilization, weatherization with a new wood shingle roof and windows, plus windows that had been in-filled when the house was Vistorianized have been restored.
Interesting items discovered by Holley and his five-man crew include two wagon wheels which had been straightened and used as a lentil for the firebox in an upstairs bedroom fireplace. Probably straightened by a local blacksmith, Holley said the straight wagon wheels will be returned to serve the same function when the fireplace is restored.
Saturday's event is hosted by the members of the Friends of the Col. Stephenson House board. The non-for-profit organization, working in cooperation with Edwardsville's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) is charged with the directive to establish the house as a living museum representing the earliest period of Edwardsville's history. A period when anyone wishing to purchase land in the new territory had to pass through the Federal Land Office in Edwardsville.
First arriving in the Illinois Territory with his wife Lucy, in 1809, Stephenson was appointed the first sheriff of Randolph County, one of the two territorial counties at the time, Randolph and St. Clair. Stephenson was also a friend of Edwardsville's namesake, Ninian Edwards, the first territorial governor and third elected governor. He earned the rank of colonel during the War of 1812 while serving under Gov. Edwards at Fort Russell just north of Edwardsville.
The family came to live in Edwardsville in 1816 when the Federal Land Office was established and Stephenson was appointed "receiver of public monies" by President James Madison. Active with Auguste Chouteau and Edwards in establishing Indian treaties which moved tribes out of what became middle Illinois, Stephenson also served as a delegate to Congress from the Illinois Territory and helped to frame the Illinois constitution approved in 1818.
Before the decision was made to restore Stephenson's house to its original condition five months of slow and careful study of the house was required by IHPA and performed by the architectural firm, J.R. Luer & Associates of St. Louis.
In addition to establishing the size of the original doorways, the original placement of the staircase and locating the ghostline of the original kitchen which was removed when the back-addition was constructed in 1845, a paper trial followed by Luer and his associate, Laura Johnson, led to one of the most important discoveries. Probate records filed in 1822 after Stephenson's death at the age of 54 revealed everything the family owned.
"This house is unusual, but the probate records is the real find," Luer said. "Stephenson left a wide paper trail and from the days when maps showed nothing north of Edwardsville. It blows your mind to be able to know exactly what to restore the house to; to know that he had a mahogany four poster bed in that upstairs room. There is no choice but to restore it to 1820."
Funded up to this point through a $500,000 state IHPA grant requested by state Sen. Evelyn Bowles, D-Edwardsville, the first membership drive was recently initiated by the Friends. As stated by Carol Wetzel, president of the Friend's board, "The acquisition has been accomplished, the architectural studies are complete and the challenging task of restoring and furnishing the house has begun."
For several years members of the Friends board have researched, planned and investigated every aspect of restoring the house and opening it up to the public. Planning to provide an authentic look at life in Edwardsville in the 1820's, the inventory of Stephenson's household belonging is invaluable.
"This inventory will help us furnish his 1820 Federal style home. Plus, the lists allow us to understand the society and culture of early Illinois that the Stephenson family was part of," said Kathryn Hopkins, president of HPC and secretary of the Friends.
Substantiating Stephenson's wealth and social standing at the time of his death in 1822, the inventory will be used to set up the house with its various uses and the actual style that was used.
"Perhaps in conjunction with entertaining and using rooms for different functions, the room we might call a living room today was used as a receiving room or parlor then and also as a temporary office. Stephenson owned a secretary, an office bookcase and a four-volume "Marshall Life of Washington." There were five different styles of chairs listed: one dozen fancy chairs, one dozen Windsor chairs, five black Windsor chairs, five split bottom chairs and one rocking chair," said Hopkins. "As for the bedroom furnishing some of the words are hard to decipher, but we believe the descriptions include a high post mahogany bedstead, a high post cherry bedstead, a low post cherry bedstead, a trundle cherry bedstead, two beds and loose feathers and bedding and curtains. These styles describe beautiful furnishings that would belong to a family of prominent social standing and wealth."
In addition to applying for state and federal grants to fund Phase 2 and 3 which will require matching funds, a membership drive has begun to allow every resident and interested party the opportunity to become a Friend of the Stephenson House. "We need everyone to join in our effort to restore this important treasure. The house is an excellent example of architecture from this early period. It's worthy of rescue and is in need of many Friends," said Wetzel. Members who join for as little as $25 before Dec. 31 will be listed as a charter member on a plaque that is planned for the orientation room of the restored house.
For those unable to attend Take-A-Peek to obtain additional information, the e-mail address is www.stepensonhouse.com or the traditional method of mail Col. Benjamin Stephenson House, 409 South Buchanan Street, P.O. Box 754, Edwardsville, Il. 62025.
Other officers of the Friends board are Joseph Weber, vice president; Donna Bardon, treasurer; and Amanda Bahr-Evola, archivist. Directors of the board include Wilma Jene Bond, Elizabeth Edwards, Joan Evers, Sandy Fultz, Karen Mateyka, Andrew Schlueter, Jeffrey Wehling and James Zupanci.