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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - February 15, 2006

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. Brrrrrrrrr, the cold winter weather has arrived but it sure doesn't slow down activity at the Stephenson House! Keith and Jack are busy with several projects that will give neat finishing touches to the grounds. They are building an old- fashioned flagpole that is really cool. And, they are erecting a corner of the brick foundation of Col. Ben's barn so folks will be able to actually see the many courses of brick used in the foundation. Ol' Henry thinks it is great having the privy, kitchen, vegetable garden and now the barn area identified. Even Henry has a better idea of how the grounds of "my" house looked when Great-great-great grandpappy Samuel came to live here with Col. Ben and Lucy and the kids lots of years ago.


Jim, Carol F. and the gardeners are excited about the area that Keith and Jack are getting ready for a shade or pleasure garden. The guys will replace the gravel area at the back of the porch area with good soil and a brick border. Then the garden committee will make the area beautiful! This small garden will make the wonderful porch area even more enjoyable!


The Valentine Dinner was simply beautiful! In each room of Col. Ben's house couples were enjoying dinner in the romantic glow of candlelight with dulcimer music and a strolling violinist adding to the ambiance. Servers in 1820 period dress completed the scene as they served dinner and attended to the diners every need. And, Ol' Henry especially thanks Lisa, the caterer, for the tidbits of the great food that I know she left just for me. This mouse feels the evening was so beautiful you almost had to see it to believe it!
OK, back to history! During the past few years Ol' Henry has heard a lot of stories about the people and events of early Edwardsville that I kinda' stored away to think about later. One was a story about Col. Ben, Theopolis Smith, Ninian Edwards and others and their offer to donate the land for the building of a courthouse and jail at their expense for Madison County. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the county, right? Well, Ol' Henry asked Cousin Jake and the guys in Lower Town to tell me what they knew about this story. Sure enough, they knew all about it.


To start with, Madison County was very short on money in 1818-1819 with taxes barely covering expenses. And, both the courthouse and jail were unfit for use and there was a lack of office space. Remember, in 1821 the county rented the lower part of Col. Ben's brick home across from the public square for the use of the Circuit Court & Commissioner's clerk. Cousin Jake and the guys from Lower Town said the scarcity of money and the absolute poverty of the large landowners made the county authorities helpless to build new buildings. This is when Col. Ben and Theopolis Smith stepped forward with an offer that seemed just what the county needed. Stephenson and Smith represented themselves and Ninian Edwards and others in this offer. These men offered to erect at their expense a new courthouse and jail on land they would donate plus donate 50 town lots that the county could then sell for income to maintain the buildings. The only condition was that the courthouse and jail be erected in the southeastern part of Edwardsville. This was an area called Upper Edwardsville or the nickname "Buncomb". Well, let this mouse tell you that when word of this offer hit the streets of Edwardsville in early 1820, it really started a rumble in Lower Town. These people did not want the courthouse to leave the public square in Lower Town or "old town".


The Lower Town guys let Ol' Henry know real quickly what the problem was with the proposal. In 1820 Upper Edwardsville contained few houses but its residents were wealthy, if not aristocratic, and there was bitter hatred against Upper Edwardsville or "Buncomb". Also, the developers of this new addition to Edwardsville were none other than Stephenson, Smith, Edwards, John Todd, John Robinson, Benaiah Robinson, John Bowers and Robert Latham. Official maps and plats call this area Todd and Others Addition. Now Ol' Henry was starting to really see the picture!


Immediately following the proposal by Stephenson and Smith, the opposition made a proposal to the county commissioners for what eventually became known as "The Donation Courthouse". About 25 citizens of Edwardsville made a proposal that stated what each individual would donate in cash or materials to erect a courthouse on the public square. They would erect the building and donate it to Madison County. The amount of their intended donations totaled about $2500. The donation of Stephenson and Smith, Edwards and others was a hot topic. The Honorable county commissioners, Samuel Judy, George Barnsback and William Jones, were unable to make a decision on this magnificent offer, probably because of the bitter and unreasonable arguments the opposition made to the commission. Cousin Jake and his buddies said Commissioner Jones was not friendly to Edwardsville, but many people were very curious why Barnsback and Judy hesitated to accept one of the two offers. Anyway, the matter was deferred until after the county election in August.


Maybe some of you know the rest of the story! In March 1821 the Second County Board decided to contract for building of a jail. The proposal of Col. Ben and others was ignored. Well, the arguments resumed. Each side had meetings and made resolutions to the County Commissioners. Stephenson and Smith presented their same offer and the friends of the county commissioners resolved that they would erect a good jail with their tax money defraying the expense. Next thing ya' know, the county commissioners invited bids for a jail to be built at the public square. They received bids ranging from $5000 to $100. The rest of the story Ol' Henry will tell you next time we get together. Right now, I must get outside and check out the progress Keith and Jack are making on the flagpole.


See ya' later,
Henry


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