Thursday, July 06, 2006

Stephenson House Dedication Complete in Edwardsville, IL

Bill Tucker/Intelligencer

Hundreds attend two-day event Sunday's heat provided an authentic 1820s backdrop to the dedication ceremony at the Col. Benjamin Stephenson House.

Illinois State Senator Bill Haine officially declared the house a public monument to culminate two days worth of events at the historic structure on South Buchanan Street.

But a lot more went into transforming the Federal-style structure into an historic landmark than just the two-day ceremony.

In 1999, the city of Edwardsville used a $500,000 state grant and, under the supervision of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission, purchased the house from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

Over the next six-plus years, the home was painstakingly restored to the point that it is now an authentic historic site aimed at preserving the past and educating the young.

Sunday's ceremony, which was hosted by Carol Wetzel, President of The Friends of the Benjamin Stephenson House, recognized many who bought into the dream of restoring one of Madison County's first -- and finest -- brick homes.

Col Benjamin Stephenson wore many hats during his time and gained fame as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a colonel in the Illinois Militia and a federal land agent.

He was also a member of the Edwardsville Board of Trustees and built his now-famous home in 1820 where he entertained such noted statesmen as Ninian Edwards, Edward Coles, Felix Grundy and Auguste Choteau.

Dr. Joe Weber, Vice President of The Friends of the Benjamin Stephenson House, said the home has served a number of purposes during its many years that were bookended by the Stephenson Family and the fraternity brothers.

"Within her walls, she's heard the voices of many who have made Illinois history," Weber said. "She has seen the best and the worst of times."

With the restoration virtually complete, the house has been returned to its grand state -- and it had a lot of help.

"Here we are looking at the dramatic changes made to our grand old lady," Weber said. "This restoration could not have been possible without the talents and expertise of so many."

RoxAnn Raisner, Director of the Col. Benjamin Stephenson House, is a relative newcomer to the project, having taken her job just about a year ago.

But having been involved in other historic projects, she said it is evident that a good many people got behind the Stephenson House.

"I'm amazed every time I walk into the house with the job the Friends, the board and community have done. It is truly a jewel for Edwardsville," Raisner said. "I think the Stephenson House is going to give so much back."

Edwardsville Mayor Gary Niebur, who has played a key, but low-key, role in the project, said great things are accomplished by great people.

"It is a spacial day at a special place and it was made this way by very special people," he said.
Niebur also addressed the house's future function, which is education.

"What was once a derelict piece of property, in a very visible part of the city, is now a jewel," Niebur said. "This house is, and will continue to be, a learning tool. Every educational discipline can learn from a study of the past."

Haine, then, took the podium to officially declare the Stephenson House public monument.
U.S. Congressman John Shimkus was also in attendance and he presented Wetzel with a copy of the statements he made for the Congressional Record regarding the Stephenson House.
Edwardsville High School student Paul Herbert Pitts sang "America" and City Administrator Ben Dickmann delivered the invocation.

A replica of the American flag from 1820, with just 23 stars on its field of blue, was hoisted and Paul Hampton led those in attendance in singing "The Star Spangled Banner."
With the weekend ceremonies now complete, the Stephenson House begins its life as an educational center.

©Edwardsville Intelligencer 2006
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