Thursday, October 18,
Peeking inside the Stephenson House
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
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
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.
"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
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
"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.
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."
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,
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