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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - April 20, 2005

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. Hey, the grape arbor is underway!! Jim and Carol F. planted six big grapevine plants in the backyard. The grapevines will climb up the arbor and bring back visions of long ago when the Wolf family made wine with the grapes they raised here. Do you think our grape arbor with six vines will bring winemaking back to 'my' house?


It has been a busy week for Keith the painter and Keith the carpenter, one finishing the glazing and the other replacing the deteriorated floors in the 1820s part of the house. Everything sure is looking good! The electrician was here and hung some beautiful old-looking light fixtures in the hallways, bathrooms and the back stairs in the 1845 part of 'my' house. And, he also installed track lighting in the room that will be the orientation room. This mouse understands that if you want light in the 1820's part of 'my' house you will use candles, just like Col. Ben and Lucy did long ago. Henry here just knows that candles will create beautiful light and bring a wonderful glow to all the rooms.


Ol' Henry's recent visit with Cousin Jake in Lower Town was fun and full of old stories. It so happens that Charles, a buddy of Jake's, had mouse relatives who came to Edwardsville from the Kaskaskia area where Col. Ben and Lucy lived during the earthquake of 1811. Ol' Henry has always wondered what happened when the earthquake shook Kaskaskia.
Charles told about a fellow from near Kaskaskia who had a house raising the day before the earthquake. Men and women from miles around gathered to raise the house and enjoy the feast and dancing that followed. Well, that earthquake came about 2 o'clock the night of December 16, 1811. By morning the new house was still standing but parts of the roof were shaken down and some of the long, top-logs were on the ground. According to Charles, the old stores told how the ground would shake and then rock and roll in long waves. After a quiet spell, there would be another shake and a long roll. During the long continued roll, the tops of the tall trees would tangle together. As they swayed, they would part and fly back the other way. Then the tangled top branches would pop like gunshots when they broke and the forest floor was just covered with broken limbs. Charles said that when he says 'tall' he means the kind of tall timber that made 95-foot logs! Wow!


Why didn't the log cabins fall apart when the ground moved? Charles had the answer and explained how the houses were built. These houses were like pens about fifteen feet square and seven feet high, built of small logs that one or two men could handle. These logs were dove-tailed at the corners and long logs were used to support the roof. On one side was a door and on the other side there was a six-foot square area about a foot deep for the "chimbley". It was built out of many small layers of split white oak sticks and wet clay, with one half of the chimney in the cabin for the hearth and the other half outside for the base of the chimney.
Charles went on to say that the houses "in the country" were built with wood and wet clay, no nails and no stones. Actually, these houses were flexible like a basket and were a perfect structure to resist an earthquake in the area of Kaskaskia. One fact he did add was that there were in fact two earthquakes on December 16, 1811. One quake happened at 2:15 AM and another followed in the morning at 8:15 AM. No wonder those folks were scared and talked about the "great shakes" for years to come. Charles said he heard the quakes continued for several months!


Charles had other stories to tell about how the earth heaved up piles and piles and piles of pure white sand on the plains that covered many square miles near the Wabash Rivers. He said the salt works near Shawneetown had a lot of damage but oddly enough some places nearby had slight damage. Charles said that all the stories agree about how frightened the domestic animals were. The horses were nickering, cattle lowing, hogs squealing and mice squeaking, all running to the house for protection and comfort.
Cousin Jake and Henry here sure wished there had been more stories to tell about Kaskaskia. The good story we always heard was that there were few lives lost because the Illinois Territory was new and not many people lived here. Charles said there was little damage to homes because, by sheer coincidence, the houses "in the country" were constructed so they could withstand earthquakes. He mentioned that Shawneetown had a few 'pretentious' houses where the stone chimneys came crashing down. That sure made Ol' Henry wonder what happened in Kaskaskia where the houses were made with a lot of stone.
Well, Charles exhausted his supply of earthquake stories and Cousin Jake and Henry learned more about the 1811 earthquake. Ol' Henry wonders if the old great grandpappys Samuel and Ezra did know stories about the earthquake but their stories have been lost over time. It sure would be great to know what all went on with Col. Ben, Lucy and the children during the time of the "great shakes"!
Ol' Henry was anxious to get back to 'my' house and I left Cousin Jake and his buddies a few days later and headed home. I plan to take the scenic route home and go along the old Cahokia Creek area and try to "see" where old creeks and streams ran to the east of what is now Edwardsville's Main Street. I sure hope I don't get lost!


Se ya' later,
Henry






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