Across the centuries, for many who journeyed to this small settlement on the western bank of the Mississippi River, Ste. Genevieve represented commercial and cultural opportunity.  French colonial merchants, traders, farmers and builders who settled the area in the early 1700’s were later followed by new arrivals from many other countries and cultures, all helping to build the first permanent settlement in what is now the great state of Missouri.

The homes of those early “voyageurs” were built in the tradition of their homeland, using the French ‘vertical log’ style of building with upright hewn timbers set into the ground or on a stone sill, and a heavy truss system named for the Normandy region of France.  Through generations of care, preservation and sometimes restoration, a significant number of these French vernacular buildings remain today in Ste. Genevieve’s National Historic Landmark District.  Mixed in among the early French buildings are equally historic examples of German American, British American and many other early pioneers who brought their preferred building methods, cultures and cuisines to the territory.  Generations of those early pioneers, as well as civic leaders and historic societies have worked to preserve and protect that early legacy.

The significance of that colonial and early American architecture prompted Congress to ask the US Department of Interior to study Ste. Genevieve’s potential fit with National Park Service (NPS) guidelines.  While many such studies result in a negative outcome, the findings of the 2016 NPS Special Resource Study summarized that Ste. Genevieve offers an “unparalleled opportunity” to provide increased understanding and appreciation for its nationally significant resources.  The NPS study further recognized the significant contributions of dedicated organizations including the Felix Valle State Historic Site/Missouri State Parks, the National Society of the Colonial Dames in the State of Missouri, the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve and the City of Ste. Genevieve.

With the passage of the NPS legislation in March 2018, Ste. Genevieve was brought one step closer to the goal of having a unit of the National Park Service established.   At a signing ceremony for local partnering organizations, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt observed, “Generations of Ste. Genevieve residents have worked painstakingly to preserve and share this unique part of our nation’s French colonial history. Thanks to their efforts, Ste. Genevieve will soon be a part of our National Park System. I hope even more Americans will take the opportunity to visit Ste. Genevieve and experience the rich history that defines Missouri’s oldest town.”

The formal establishment of the National Historical Park in Ste. Genevieve is slated for the spring of 2019 and will mark a continuation of the NPS journey.  The state of Missouri currently estimates 80,000 tourists visit Ste. Genevieve annually and 500 jobs are dependent on the industry as a whole.  As the park site is established and more NPS guests arrive, a conservative estimate would indicate an additional 20,000 visitors to our destination as a result of a National Historical Park Site.  All of the surrounding businesses and nearby attractions stand to benefit from that increased economic activity.

The community of Ste. Genevieve would like to thank our elected officials for sponsoring the legislation and the National Park Service for their continued support and guidance.  As we move forward in this journey, we look forward to working in collaboration with the NPS leadership as we strive to preserve, interpret, present and enhance the cultural resources of Ste. Genevieve as part of a thriving and sustainable community, and to connect people to these resources through recreation, tourism and education to an even greater degree in the future.

 

Editorial provided by Sandra Cabot, Tourism Director

National Park Service Requirements

To become a park, a site must meet a certain list of expectations and requirements including significance, sustainability, feasibility, and need for National Park Service Management. Guess what—we meet all of those requirements!

Significance

If you didn’t already know, Ste. Genevieve is Missouri’s oldest town. It was settled by the French in the 1750s. Like many other places in Missouri, it was settled by the French, given to the Spanish, and then purchased by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. The transition of ownership and waves of settlers of different origins resulted in what the National Park Service described in the department’s resource study of the area as “agricultural resources complimented and enriched by contemporaneous example of British American and German American architecture that contribute to the historical associations with French exploration and settlement of the interior of the US in the late 18th and early 19th century with the American territory that developed following LA purchase.” In other words, the architecture found in Ste. Genevieve is historically significant to our area and tells a unique story of the Westward Expansion of the United States.

However, what makes Ste. Gen special is the “large and rare collection of French vernacular vertical log houses.” This is one of the few locations in the United States to explore these homes and witness a unique part of the country’s history.

A number of these homes are still standing, even after being built as early the mid-eighteenth century. They were built to last and did so withstanding centuries of wear and tear and the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 that devastated most of the Southeast Missouri region. Many of the homes are still in use as private residences, most of them maintaining the charm of the original structures.

Fun fact: One of the standing homes in Ste. Genevieve belonged to Moses Austin, who left Missouri with his family to Texas in 1820. Austin, Texas, is named for his son Stephen who is known as “The Father of Texas” and served as the republic’s first secretary of state.

Suitability

According to the Ste. Genevieve National Park Service Resource Study, Ste. Gen “offers an unparalleled opportunity to provide public understanding and appreciation of the nationally significant historic district and themes of French settlement, vernacular architecture, and community form as well as farming on the frontier.”

There are no other comparable locations to Ste. Gen. Its unique examples of a time long passed makes it the perfect location for a National Park with the potential Men’s and Women’s Replica watches
of attracting thousands of visitors every year.

Feasibility

To be considered a feasible location for a national park, an area must be a decent enough size to both ensure preservation of resources as well as allow for the use of space by the public.

Ste. Gen meets those two needs. Our historical district is the perfect size to organize a variety of potential unit configurations and provide full access to the park’s unique features to every day visitors.

Need for National Park Service Management

Currently, many of the properties in Ste. Genevieve are owned and operated by private residents, not-for-profit groups focused on historic preservation, or by the City of Ste. Genevieve. We value the organizations, volunteers, and private residents that maintain our beautiful and historic properties, but also think the management of the National Park Service would help serve the community in other ways. The NPS would be able to meet the unmet needs for resource protection as well help to interpret the historical relevance of our charming homes. They could study the area in ways we have been unable to before and answer the questions we didn’t know we had.

As you can see, Ste. Genevieve is home to unique reminders of America’s past. If Ste. Genevieve becomes a national park, it could exponentially increase the number of visitors to the town and surrounding areas bringing in anywhere from $1.7 million to $3.3 million (this number is the estimated based on similar sites). If you support the effort to incorporate Ste. Genevieve into the National Park System, contact senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt to make sure they support the vote in the Senate.

We hope to soon see the arrowhead logo of the National Park Service on signs for our town encouraging others to celebrate the special history of our home!

Photos in this post kindly provided by © R. Mueller.

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