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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - June 6, 2002

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back. Golly, am I a proud mouse! Each day I run across the street to take a good long look at "my" house. It looks so good and so different now that the wonderful red brick has been uncovered.
I overhead some interesting stuff a few weeks ago. In the 1940's the Berry sisters, Ida and Stella, bought the Stephenson House because they needed a large home in which to raise their deceased sister's four children. Two of these children, Gloria and Caryl, were visiting relatives in Edwardsville last week and they came by to see "my" house. Ole' Henry was around last year when their sister Beverly visited. These ladies had lived here as children and teenagers and now they were here to visit and enjoy house as adults. Henry could see how they liked the mantels! Ya' know, as kids the mantels were there to put things on and only now did they really see the fine wood working. The careful carving on the underside of the parlor mantel reminded them of small stair steps and made them wonder at the talents of the wood worker. Jim told the ladies that it was a Daniel Tolman, a local craftsman, who built the mantels. He explained that Tolman's bills for turning the various wood parts were found in Col. Ben's personal records. Jim said it is thought Tolman got the designs for the mantels from pattern books that were commonly used to copy architectural works in the early 1800's. The classic urns and little wood balls at the base of the mantel side pieces were all crafted by Tolman. There are four mantels, three are in storage right now, and I heard Jim explain how each one is different and that the parlor and master bedroom are the most elaborate. He said only the finer homes had elaborate mantels in the upstairs rooms. Ole' Henry has heard through the years about how Lucy would entertain ladies for tea in the master bedroom where there was the elaborate fireplace and elegant bed chamber curtains and furnishings. This was a usual way for the so called more refined women to entertain their lady friends in the early 1800's.
Joe also told how the mantels are very classical in design, depicting the Adams style. The mantels are works of art and are rare examples of the extraordinary talents of the wood workers craft of the early 1800's.
Gloria and Caryl enjoyed seeing their old home and The Friends were proud to show them the house and the progress of the restoration. It was a fun week for all. AND, when they return home they can now check out the progress of the Stephenson House on the internet. Yep, "my" house is there. Just go to www.stephensonhouse.com or search for Benjamin Stephenson House on Yahoo or Google - it is all there and will continue to be updated. Henry here heard that Andrew started all this and then got Dan to join in the project. They are the guys behind all this! Good going, guys!
OK, I promised to tell you about Col. Ben's first house in Edwardsville. Col. Ben was appointed to the Land Grant Office of the Edwardsville District by President Madison in April 1815. The office opened in 1816 so Col. Ben most likely came in that year, but where did he live? Joe said the other day that a Mr. Wiggins ran a fine inn behind the Public Square and a lot of the elite and important men stayed there when in town. Makes sense that Col. Ben would stay there until he picked a place to build a house and then bring his family from Kaskaskia to Edwardsville.
Amanda, the archivist, has told us that Col. Ben bought Lot #23 in January 1817 and in September 1817 there is a record that shows Col. Ben was residing in his brick house on Lot #23 across from the Court House and Public Square. We know that Lot #23 is where the big dinning room and dance floor of Rusty's are located today. Ole' Henry here does not want to shake his finger at you, but, I did tell you all this before - bet you were out of town and missed what I had to say!!
I heard the HPC people talking about Col. Ben's first brick house on Lot #23. Karen said Ed, the gentleman seen at the library, had searched the old newspapers for articles on Col. Ben and he found this in the December 17, 1895 Industrial "I": "The first brick house in Edwardsville was built by Col. Nathaniel Buckmaster for Stephenson. The maker used street dust in molding the brick instead of sand and the building decayed after a few years". Henry here has also heard that an early 1800's Madison County Gazetteer also said Nathaniel Buckmaster built Col. Ben's first house. HPC researchers say they found information about Nathaniel as Sheriff of Madison County in 1826 and active in politics, but nothing about his being a builder in his early days. Deanna said she saw somewhere that Nathaniel Buckmaster was also the designer and builder of Col. Ben's 1820 house. HPC is trying to find the correct story and Henry will hang in there with them by keeping an ear to the wall. Well, folks, that is the story of Col. Ben's first house. He lived right across from the old Court House and Public Square and the brick house was not built to last. Maybe it was because it was the very first brick house in town that the builder made a few mistakes!!
Hey, the Rt. 66 Festival is this weekend on June 7 and 8. Be sure to stop by "my" house. Kathryn and Sandy have lots of things planned for the Stephenson House. From what I have overheard they will have, among other things, natural fabric and fiber dying, period music, quill pen and paper, the 1812 Illinois Rangers Reenactment Group, and Benaiah Robinson, the surveyor from 1820, is planning to stop by. This will all happen from 11 to 4 pm on Saturday and it's free! Come take a look at Life In The 1820's, it will be fun. Hope to see you.
The guys are cutting the grass and I have to stay clear - I darn near got my tail in trouble at the auction! I am heading upstairs to see how things look up there.

See ya, later,

Henry



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