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,