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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - April 30, 2003

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. You know what? The activity still goes on at "my" house! As you drive by you see all that is going on outside. Hey, there is also the inside!

Early the other day the Madison County Sheriff's Work Alternative Program - I call them the SWAP boys - arrived at the door. "My" house was on Norm's list of places that had asked for help and his people were here and ready to work early in the day. Henry here could see Joe working with Norm's people and they got a lot done. The Friends sure do appreciate all the help from SWAP!

What a day it was! After the guys removed some ugly stuff on a couple of the upstairs ceilings they made quite a find! In the 1820 childrens' bedroom the original pine rafters with some of the original bark on them were uncovered. And, Henry really liked this next thing. Have you ever heard Joe talk about the sheathing boards under the roof? Now, with the ugly stuff off the ceilings, we can really see those sheathing boards. The boards are 10 to 12 feet long and 18 inches wide. Those are some big boards, huh?

Each sheathing board is a solid, one piece board cut from a very large and very tall tree. Can you imagine the size of that tree? Our skilled craftsman friend, Joe H., who knows about lumber and the old days, thinks the tree was a Sycamore. Sycamores grew to be huge and were readily available to be cut down and lumbered or planked near the site of the house. I heard Joe H. say that the carpenters probably built a 6' x 8' frame, put the tree trunk on it and two men used a two-man rip saw to "lumber" or plank this huge one piece sheathing board. These two men made this work with one man at the top and another at the bottom of the frame to saw or " plank" the tree trunk and it was all done by hand. Madison County did not have any steam mills to help with these big jobs until 1832. You all must take a look at these sheathing boards the next time "my" house is open for a Take-A- Peek! They are impressive.

Norm, Sheriff Hertz and the SWAP people sure make Ol' Henry wake up and take notice. It seems that each time you guys give us a hand around here something really old and interesting is found. This time it was the huge sheathing boards and 1820 pine rafters with the bark still on them. Lieutenants Terry and Bob are lucky because they are always one of the first to see the discovery! Hey, I was here the day that one of the SWAP workers brought his son to "my" house to show him this old, old house and to tell him about all the history that happened here. Henry liked to see that! Henry watches you all from my hiding places and it makes me happy to see and hear you enjoy "my" house.

Henry has been telling you about Col. Ben's accomplishments as Congressman in Washington, D.C. Now I am going to tell you about one bill he got passed that I think will be interesting to you. Col. Ben sponsored the bill that, when passed, authorized the President to lease the salines for an additional seven years. What were the salines? Well, salt came from saline springs. Salt was enormously important at that time because salt was the only way to preserve meat. The object of the bill, when enacted into law, was to assure that the most salt possible was being produced, not only to meet the demands but to help reduce the price. Once again, Col. Ben was there accomplishing what the folks needed.

In the early days salt beef and salt pork were sold by the barrel and salt was the only means of preserving meat. Now, that requires a lot of salt - and just where did it come from? The major source was the salines just west of Shawneetown. Clay pans that the Indians had used for evaporating the salt brine had been discovered and this helped government surveyors locate the two potent salt springs near the Saline River and Shawneetown. Sid said this is near today's Equality, Illinois.

Now, how does one make salt from the saline spring water? Salt production was hard work and here is how it was produced. Water from the salt springs was led to cast iron kettles through hollowed logs used as pipes. Long lines of kettles filled with the salt water were boiled over log fires. Henry heard Sid say that one authority said 125 to 280 gallons of boiling water were needed to produce one fifty-pound bushel of salt. And, 80 to 100 bushels of salt were produced in one day at the salines! Now, how many gallons of boiling water does that take in a day??

Because the need for salt was so great and producing it so labor intensive, the salines were exempt from the prohibition on slavery in Illinois. An authority on the salines said there were from 1000 to 2000 slaves who worked in salt production at the salines. Most of these slaves were leased from their Kentucky and Tennessee owners. The slaves cut and hauled the firewood, scooped the salt into barrels and loaded it on to carts. Oxen hauled the bushel barrels of salt to Shawneetown where it was reloaded into keelboats headed to Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri where there was a big market for salt. Men from Illinois would ride over 100 miles for a packsaddle load of salt. Remember, salt was the only means of preserving meat. Salt was enormously important!

The salines produced at least 120,000 bushels of salt each year and it cost between eighty cents and one dollar per bushel to the buyer.

The salt production from the salines was so important that Congress set up a 10 by 13 mile reservation for the protection of the timber that provided the firewood. The salines near Shawneetown were leased by the federal government and territorial governor Ninian Edwards served as superintendent of the U.S. Salines, the official name of the salines. The income from the salt supported a great deal of the Illinois territorial government. Salt was important for many reasons!

This exception to the anti-slavery rules at the salines gave the pro-slavery people hope that the prohibition would be overturned and at the same time the anti-slavery folks kept a real close eye on the management of the salines. Even after the territory became a state, and Illinois prohibited slavery, the salines continued to be an exception until 1825. Hey, isn't Henry so smart to know all this? Actually, Sid and Karen found it in a book and I heard them talking about it! Today salt is a common item, but in early Illinois salt was extremely important and vital to survival!

Now, lets talks about something else. I hear there is a lot more work to be started soon that will complete the initial phase of work on the Stephenson House. When it starts, trust me, I will keep you posted. Also, I heard bits and pieces about "A Taste of Downtown Edwardsville," with flags, music, tickets to sell and lots of fun coming up soon. Keep your ears to the ground and let's find out what this is all about!


See ya' later,
Henry


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