Will Our Town Become a National Park?
United States Representative Jason Smith announced last month that the House passed a bill that would establish segments of the city of Ste. Genevieve as a National Park.
The Ste. Genevieve National Park Establishment Act would establish parts of the town as part of the National Park Service, making it Missouri’s seventh national park. At the same time it was proposed in the House, the Act was proposed in the Senate, where it is currently waiting for passage before heading to the president for approval.
This is one of the last steps in accomplishing a goal we’ve been striving towards for a long time. Making this town a national park would increase tourism and contribute approximately $1.7 million to the town’s economy, a boost that would greatly benefit our community.
So what makes our town special enough to even be considered for such an honor?
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!
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.
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 of attracting thousands of visitors every year.
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.