The Old Stone House, a project of the Rochester Historical Preservation Society, is an 1830s dwelling moved from its original site east of town to near Rochester Community Park. It is open periodically as a living history demonstration.
The house was built between 1832 and 1836 by Samuel Stevens, who had moved to central Illinois from New Hampshire. According to a historical marker outside the house, family tradition was that Stevens’ future father-in-law would not allow Stevens to marry his intended, Lucetta Putnam, until she had a “suitable” home.
Stevens, who with two partners owned a grain mill and speculated in land, built the house about three miles east of Rochester on what was called the Terre Haute road (now Buckhart Road), a main east-west route in those days.
The couple had a child, Phineas, in 1838, but Samuel Stevens died the next year. Under Illinois law at the time, his property went to the infant Phineas, and Lucetta Stevens was forced to sue to obtain “dower” rights. A young Abraham Lincoln wrote the final decree.
Acting as the lawyer for one Mary Hunt, Lincoln also filed to foreclose on 240 acres of land Stevens had bought, but not paid for, before his death. The foreclosure was approved and the land sold to satisfy Stevens’ debt.
The 18- by 36-foot house has three stories and two fireplaces, one in the lower-level kitchen and the other in the ground-floor living area. The kitchen also includes a baking oven, with a separate chimney flue, and a well that provided a convenient, indoor source of water. (In addition, wooden gutters directed rainwater to an outside cistern.) Two bedrooms are in the top-floor loft, which was warmed by air leaking upward from below.
The stone – more than 400 tons – is thought to have come from a quarry now under the water of Lake Springfield. Much of the wood used in the reconstruction is new, but the log beams along the outside walls are largely the original white oak.
An information sheet at the house suggests Stevens had some guidance in designing the house.
It is thought that Samuel built this house from some sort of plans and simple drawings as there were many structural features built into the house that an ordinary person on the prairie probably would not have done. Another thought on the design and building of the house is that it is a copy of a similar house “suggested” by Lucetta’s father, back in New Hampshire ….
The home went through a series of owners during the 160 years it sat on its original site. Fourteen families are known to have lived in the house, the last moving out in 1954. Renovations over the years included installation of electricity, plastered walls and modern windows.
In 1997, after a windstorm inflicted major damage to the building, its then-owners, the Mendenhall family, offered it to the Rochester Historical Preservation Society. Workers dismantled the house, carefully designating the stones that made up the four corners and photographing the entire building. The final reconstruction took about three years.
The house’s current form reflects its exterior appearance in 1910, the date of the oldest known photograph of the building.
The rebuilt and refurnished home (furnishings are from the right period, but are not original) was opened in a ceremony in 2005. As of 2016, the home was open for tours from 1 to 4 p.m. the first Sunday of every month and on other special occasions.
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