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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - March 1, 2006

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. Busy, busy days around here getting "my" house ready to open to the public on Thursday, March 2, 2006! Yes sir, The Col. Benjamin Stephenson House will be open each week on Thursday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. and on Sundays from 12 noon to 4 P.M. Volunteers are preparing to guide house tours and RoxAnn and others are busy sewing period clothing for the volunteers. Just call 692-1818 to join in the fun! RoxAnn and Erin are looking for more volunteers for a multitude of things, including sewing easy period dresses for the volunteers. A volunteer group of people playing cards will make the dining room come alive. A woman doing needlework or just reading a book will add charm to any room. Volunteer men and women are needed in the kitchen to demonstrate cooking over an open fire. Join up! You can pretty well pick your own hours!! You all be sure to come visit soon! Ol' Henry is will be so excited to see you!


The bedrooms are looking absolutely awesome! George and Elizabeth made tickings stuffed with hay for "mattresses" just they used in 1820. It was a big job stuffing all that hay into the tickings, but they had fun! Kathy made beautiful hangings for the four-poster bed in the master bedroom. Ol' Henry thinks the top part is called a canopy with long, curtain-like hangings on the posters. Henry thinks they were closed around the bed for warmth in the winter. The bedroom looks like it did long, long ago and is beautiful!
Hey, let's get back to the story Henry here was telling about the big fuss over a new jail and courthouse for Madison County. Cousin Jake said that times were really poor in 1821. The current taxes did not cover ordinary expenses and many folks were strongly opposed to the county decision to erect a new jail. They wrote the county, strongly stating their opposition to spending tax dollars on a new jail. Remember that Stephenson, Smith, Edwards and others had offered to take care of the new public buildings at their expense and the county rejected their offer.


A group who were friends of the county commissioners met. They wrote a proposal to the commissioners stating a new jail was an absolute necessity to save the people from assassins and midnight robbers. They would contribute their portion of taxes to defray the expenses incurred in building a county jail. Cousin Jake said it sounds like these men wanted their tax money set aside for the jail. If so, the county would be short that much money for ordinary expenses. Oh, well… The county commissioners, Amos Squire, James Tunnell and Abraham Prickett jumped on the proposal made by their friends and invited bids for contracts at once. Among the bidders were Jeptha Lamkin $5000, Walter Seeley $2800, Benjamin Stephenson $2000, T.W. Smith $1500, Hooper Warren $200. Apparently the county had advertised it would take the low bid. Ninian Edwards bid $100, stating that he would erect the jail at the place advertised, within the time frame and according to advertised plans for the jail. Ninian's bid was rejected and Ol' Henry wonders about Ninian's reaction!


The bid was awarded to Seeley and he erected the jail and met all the specifications of his contract with the county. But, Seeley's experience with the county was not good. In 1822 he wrote to the commissioners of the county stating that he now had debts he could not pay because he had furnished materials for the jail. He pleaded for payment to him. Apparently the county had not paid him any money. Seeley was ill and confined and the constable was at his door, ready to sell Seeley's own property in payment for the jail debts. The court ordered this letter filed and it remained filed until 60 years later when it was found. Cousin Jake and his buddies did not know if Seeley ever got paid or if the constable sold his property to pay his debts.
Remember Stephenson and Smith's proposal included a courthouse. Well, guys, in 1821 the county court also accepted a proposal by John York Sawyer and others for the building of a brick court house on the public square. The group of 25 citizens who made the proposal would pay for the "Donation Courthouse" in either cash or materials. The building progressed very slowly even with prodding from the court. Finally, in 1825, the court released J.T. Lusk, Paris Mason and Joshua Atwater from their bond to erect the courthouse. They were to just finish off the dirt floor and get all materials intended for the courthouse to the county so the circuit court could meet there on the next Monday Between 1831 and 1835, the court house was completed at public expense enabled by raiding the school fund. Formal possession of the courthouse took place on June 25, 1835. The guys in Lower Town remember hearing stories how the new "Donation" courthouse was pitiful and certainly not much of an improvement over the first log cabin courthouse.
Cousin Jake told this story. An eccentric evangelist, Lorenzo Dow, came to town to preach and was shown the courthouse as the meeting place. He refused to preach there, saying, "it is only fit for a hog pen." The floor was dirt and there were no stairs to reach the second floor. The old men serving as jurors had to climb a steep and fragile ladder to reach the upper floor. This courthouse served Madison County until 1857. Ol' Henry sure hopes there were some improvements made between 1835 and 1857. Golly, what a poor decision it was to turn down the offer made by Stephenson, Smith, Edwards and others for a new courthouse and jail!


Ol' Henry has lots to do before the opening on Thursday. Everyone has been working on tidying up the house and it got me to thinking about doing some serious tidying in my hidey place! I better get going!


See ya' later,
Henry



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