Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Stephens House matters, too

Here's another of those "This Place Matters" photos that Alyse and I have been taking this week in recognition of the fact May is National Preservation Month. I drafted those standing in front for sign duty after Tuesday's Lucas County Historical Society board meeting. They are (from left) Barb Vogel, collections associate; and Kay Brown, Fred Steinbach, Joe Sellers and Adam Bahr, board members.

The historical society purchased the old house and its grounds (three and a half acres) during 1966, spent a couple of years restoring it, then opened it to the public during 1968. For a number of years, it was the only building on the museum campus, then others were added: The John L. Lewis Building (in two stages), Puckerbrush School, Otterbein Church, pioneer log cabin, barn and blacksmith shop.

It was built during 1911 by Andrew Jackson Stephens, a Chariton-based contractor who worked throughout the state.

"Yes, I have decided to erect a brick residence to be occupied as my family home, on my grounds in the west part of town," Stephens anounced in The Chariton Leader of May 18, 1911. "You can see the place from the north side of the square. It heads the street (Braden Avenue) and is a sightly place. I have been accumulating brick from my building contracts at several points over the state and thought this would be a good time to build."

A month later, on June 29, The Leader reported that "Andy Stephens is getting the work on his brick residence in the west part of town well under way and when completed will have one of the prettiest homes in Chariton."

When the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places during 1987, there was considerable debate about how to classify it. I'd have to look at the application to check for sure, but believe the architectural historians involved called in "American vernacular." You also might call it classical revival because of the portico and porches appended to what is essentially an American foursquare building.

The material that it's constructed of, plus the odd mix of styles, are what make it unique. The walls are a mix of rusticated concrete block and brick of a similar color. It is not, despite the Leader's 1911 description, a "pretty house," but it is distinctive and interesting.

The plan is similar to those of other houses built in Chariton during the 1895-1915 period, stair hall, double parlors and dining room in the forepart of the house; kitchen, pantry and secondary entrance, to the rear. There are five rooms upostairs --- three large ones (two of them connected by pocket doors), plus two smaller bedrooms, a bath and a large dressing room.

The full attic, once used for storage, is as of last summer filled with insulation (the house is a beast to heat and cool) and everything once stored up there has been moved to the full (and remarkably light and dry) basement --- one of these days we'll actually have to deal with this stuff rather than just move it from place to place.

Anyone who wishes to visit the old house, and the rest of the museum, is welcome to do so. We open for the summer season June 1, 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. The place actually is open year-around by appointment or catch as catch can.

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