The story of Vandalia's 'roaming house'

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By Linda Hanabarger

My cousin, Connie Torbeck, who works in historic preservation in Pennsylvania, sent a clipping to me from a 1908 Vandalia Union with a question – where is the Henry Gochenour home located?

“Old Landmark Going,” read the headline.

“The old building known best by citizens of Vandalia as the Mrs. Slade residence is being torn down and will be replaced by a modern residence at once by Henry Gochenour, who has purchased the property. 

“This old house was built in 1832 by C. Prentiss and then stood on the hill where the Stewarts now live. In 1881 B.F. Henry, who had married Miss Dell Greathouse, whose mother was a Prentiss, bought the hill property and moved this old house over where it now stands,” the article read.

“Up to the time of her death, it belonged to and was occupied by Mrs. Slade, a daughter of C. Prentiss.

“The frame is of solid hewed oak, the joists being logs that would square from six to eight inches. The lath are of hewed oak and as solid as when put in the building three-fourths of a century before.”

Although street names were not given in the clipping, I thought I knew the house referred to in the article…and it was not torn down in 1908, but rather moved one block south and placed on the southwest corner of Randolph and Sixth streets.

Many years ago, the late Mary Burtschi told me of a house known as the “roaming house,” because it had been moved several times.

Built by Charles Prentice, the home stood directly across the street from Mary’s home.

Col. Charles Prentice, known as Vandalia’s first storekeeper, was 19 years old when he managed William Kinney’s Vandalia grocery in 1819 and became known as Vandalia’s first storekeeper.

His father, John Prentice, was a merchant in St. Clair as early as 1815, and it was probably while working with his father that Charles learned the ins and outs of running a grocery.

Charles believed the exchange of farm produce for merchandise encouraged those who tilled the land.

He offered groceries, dry goods, hardware, tin and glassware in exchange for pork, bacon, wheat and deerskins.

Charles and Mary Hinds were married in Vandalia on June 1, 1826.

They were parents of three daughters: Maria, who married William Slade of Carlyle, and brother to the famous outlaw Jack Slade; Julia (Mrs. Tevis Greathouse); and Mary Caroline, who married Jacob Fouke.

Charles Prentice was a capital-era leader and served in the House of Representatives Sixth General Assembly (1828-1830).

In his “State Bank Issue Speech,” on Jan. 1, 1837, Abraham Lincoln mentioned Prentice as one of the 24 most respectable men in the state … a man of honor and integrity in whom the people placed confidence.

In the early days, Vandalia merchants hauled goods from St. Louis. One of his buying trips to St. Charles, Mo., Charles became sick and died.

Eleven months after Abraham Lincoln said all those nice things about him, one of the 24 most respected men in Illinois was dead. His wife and three daughters survived him.

Although the name of Prentice is no longer seen in Vandalia, the house whose frame of solid hewed oak stands as a monument to Vandalia’s first storekeeper.