Why “St Stephens “?
Saint Stephen the Great was the Patron Saint of the Hungarians and of stone masons (very appropriate for the site). St. Stephens the Great (977-1038), a strong defender of the Christian faith and proponent of the rights of the “Holy See”, was anointed king of Hungary in the year 1,000. St. Stephen was canonized in 1083 by Pope St. Gregory VII and at that time became the official patron saint of Hungary.
Joseph and Erzabet Bartok (the land owner’s grandparents) were Hungarian immigrants who traveled to the United States aboard the RMS Carpathia (the ship that came to the aid of the Titanic). They soon set foot on Ellis Island in New York in 1906 to begin a “new life” in this “new world”. In 1937 Joseph and Erzabet purchased the farm where “St Stephen’s on The Hill” now sits. As a tribute to the owner’s grandparents, the Chapel was given its’ name.
The entrance of the chapel is constructed of Bedford stone which originated from the Van Cleve building built from 1908 to 1910 in Eldorado, Illinois as the first permanent structure of the Eldorado Township High School. When the high school was demolished in 2001, the stone and brick made its way to this location where they laid idle until April 2011. At that time, the land’s owner had vision for the use of the materials and began construction of an outdoor chapel for the upcoming wedding ceremony of his daughter.
He began the task of laying each individual piece of brick and stone, not really conscious of what the end result would be. One thing that he did know was that he wanted to utilize reclaimed, vintage items to make the venue very unique and special. The timber frame at the entrance of the chapel is from the Harry Devillez “Lamkin Farm” south of Wasson, Illinois. The slate shingles are from the St. Joseph church in Ridgway, Illinois. St. Joseph’s church was built in the late 1800’s and was considered “The Little Cathedral” of Southern Illinois. Sadly the church was destroyed in the leap day tornado of 2012. The cast iron lamp posts were salvaged from St. Louis, Missouri where they were manufactured in 1870 by Banner Iron Works. St. Ann’s shrine in St. Louis Missouri was the home of the light that hangs in the arched entrance of the chapel and was manufactured by the Guth Lighting Company of St. Louis Mo. The stained glassed window depicting St Stephens the Great originated from St. Ladislaus, a Hungarian Catholic Church in Hazleton, PA.
On May 12, 2012, a very proud father walked his beautiful daughter down the isle of St Stephens. The vision became reality and the magic continues today.
As I am not a painter, sculptor nor musician, I have had to resort to the limited capabilities that I do have to create art. It has always been my goal to create a place that will allow those who visit to use their imagination to make their own stories about their experiences at Saint Stephens. I will say that the Bridge at Saint Stephens has been inspired somewhat by Claude Monet, a late nineteenth and early twentieth century French artist. Monet is well known for his “Water Lilly” impressionist paintings that were created at his own lily pond located in Giverny France and I recommend that you visit Giverny and the home of Claude Monet if you ever have the opportunity.
The lily pond at St Stephens was constructed in 2003 which was two years prior to the construction of the house. I began planting water lilies and Iris’s in the pond as soon as it was filled by the rain which took just a few months.
I first saw the bridge in 2004 as I was working on a drainage project and could see through the rust, brush, vines and weeds and recognize the beauty of the ironwork. I hoped that someday the bridge could be rescued from its location which was prone to yearly flooding along with the drift of corn stalks, tree limbs and brush that came with the high waters. It was twelve years later (2016) that the opportunity for me to take possession of the bridge came about, so with much work and help from many friends the bridge was moved to its current location.
The bridge was built by the Vincennes Bridge Company of Vincennes Indiana. Although the records from the bridge company have been lost we believe, (through much research) that the bridge was constructed between 1900 and 1910. The bridge design is considered a “Lost Pony Truss Bridge” with many of these bridges dotting the rural areas in the early to mid-twentieth century. The bridge was located on the Harry Devillez farm between Wasson and Muddy Illinois and had not been in use since the early 1950’s. After many long discussions with Mr. Devillez we don’t believe that this was the original location for the bridge but was later moved to this location in the 1920’s or 1930’s to make easier access to a portion of the farm that lay across a major drainage-way, most all of these iron bridges have been replaced with modern structures of reinforced concrete that accommodate the heavier and wider loads we see today.
A special thanks to all of those who helped make the “Bridge at Saint Stephens” possible.
Harry Devillez, Andrew Daniels, Donnie Boulds. Bennie Herschberger, Gary Grisham,
Larry Grisham, Woody Hathaway, & Clay Bryan