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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - October 10, 2002

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back. I hitched my ride to Columbia, Missouri for a short trip to see Cousin Elzey just like I said I would. Elzey and a lot more Stephenson House mouse relatives were around when I arrive. I picked up a lot of information from Cousin Elzey and he expects to find even more on the Palemon and Julia Stephenson Winchester descendants to pass along. Well, Henry here is trying to figure out all I have learned. You just have to give this old guy another couple weeks and I will be on top of things and can get you up to date. That Elzey and his folks had a real spread of hunks of cheese, crackers and even peanut butter waiting for me!

Looks like I picked the right week to be gone. Sure must have been dull at "my" house without E.J. and the guys. I just know they will be back soon and add excitement to my life when they work on the windows and shutters.

For some time now, Ole' Henry has been telling you about all the folks that lived in and owned Col. Ben's house, but I am about finished. It was in 1902 that J. Frank Dickmann and his wife Karolina bought Col. Ben's house. Frank and Karolina raised eight children in Col. Ben's house and there are many of their descendants in our area today. Just for the record, Frank Dickmann was our Ben Dickmann's great uncle.

In 1880s and the 1890s, Frank Dickmann farmed land south of Edwardsville and must have moved into town when he bought Col. Ben's house from the Frederick W. Wolf family in 1902 Uncle Otto was a good story teller about carpentry and he told how he watched as the Dickmann's added a large Victorian front porch and filled in the four fireplaces. He was there when they enlarged the doorways to the parlor and dining room. Uncle Otto said they also reversed the entire staircase and landing. It was moved from the north wall of the foyer to the east wall. These were all very fashionable changes of the Victorian period.

Frank and Karolina died in the 1930's. Their daughter Lizzie continued to live in the home until 1941. Some of the Dickmann family lived in Col. Ben's house for thirty-nine years, longer than any of the other owners.

Now we are getting to the times that I either remember hearing about myself or that I actually observed. I do remember a little about when Lizzie lived here alone for those twelve years. During this time she fulfilled a real need for some of the women in the community. Lizzie provided rooms for many of the women who wanted a place to live when they came to town for work. They also were good company for Lizzie. Frank Dickmann had a lot of land here in the Buchanan Street area and after his death many of the children received a tract of land, except for Lizzie who received the house.

In 1941Lizzie sold the house to Elmer and Hallie Waltrip who lived there with their daughters for two years. It was then that Stella and Ione Berry were so fortunate to find Col. Ben's house for sale and were able to purchase it. They needed a big house to provide a home for their five nieces and nephews who had just been orphaned. Col. Ben's house provided plenty of space for these children who ranged from five to fifteen years of ages. Henry knows Col. Ben and Lucy were watching and were happy to see their house become a home for these children. Henry remembers these children as they grew under the care of the Berry sisters, both school teachers. A number of these children have all returned to see their home in the last few years and it sure was fun for me to see them all grown up!! As their nieces and nephews left home the Berry sisters provided rooms for school teachers and other women who needed a room in town.

Stella Berry died in 1965 and eight years later Ione decided to sell because "the house is too much for me to take care of". Henry can remember Ione saying that she didn't want to sell to just anybody. She knew that the fact that the house was built in 1820 makes it one of the oldest structures in Illinois and the builder, Benjamin Stephenson., was an important man in Illinois history. Hey, she was a school teacher and she knew about history!
The Berry sisters loved Col. Ben's house and kept it in good condition. Well, it worked out perfectly for Ione because the family of Rev. Stephen Weissman of St. Andrews Episcopal Church was the next family to own the home. They purchased it in 1875 and were a family who loved the home and its history. Rev. Weissman researched the history of Col. Ben's house and it was through his efforts that the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Thanks to Rev. Weissman!!

The rest is rather recent history. In 1982, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity purchased the house and lived there until 1999, when it was sold to the City of Edwardsville. Through Senator Evelyn Bowles the Historic Preservation Commission received grant funds from the State of Illinois and ever since HPC has been working to restore "my" house to its original condition. It sure is looking good!!!

Now, pay attention to this! On Saturday Oct. 19th Gourmet Chefs Wilma Jene Bond, Gerry Gilman, Bettie Hudgens and Henry Malench will be cooking Burgoo over an open hickory fire at Col. Ben's house. Come by to enjoy Rich Harrison and Dave Heider on the dulcimers, Take-A-Peek at the restoration progress, watch spinners, weavers, basket makers, yarn dyers and Sid churning butter! Then have some Burgoo for supper here on the lawn. Hey, we even have carry-outs of Burgoo. The Friends group is sponsoring the Burgoo fundraiser to help pay for the Experience Illinois loan for the Clark Station lot and would appreciate your help! Henry knows that for sure!!! Hope to see you October 19th.

See ya later,

Henry



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