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Virginia Tolles

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Sites Along My Journey - Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
By Virginia Tolles   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Posted: Tuesday, May 08, 2007

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The author shares an interesting discovery she made on her recent spring vacation.

Ste. Genevieve, Missouri is a quaint French Colonial community located on the bluffs above the Mississippi River about an hour south of St. Louis. Its name is pronounced as the Anglo-American Jennie-Veev, not the French Jahn-Ve-Ev. Its appearance is just as multi-cultural. My first impression was that it was old-town Winchester, Virginia, built in French Creole architecture. Indeed, the streets are narrow, and the structures are built right against the sidewalks, which run right next to the streets.

The original Ste. Genevieve was established at some point between 1722 and 1749 as the first permanent European settlement in what is now Missouri. It was settled by fur traders and later inhabited by men mining lead in the surrounding hills and by farmers.

Located on the river in the days before tall levees, the town was wiped out in 1785, when the river went over its banks. It was resettled on higher ground. Even so, the Creole houses are built up. Like their counterparts in South Louisiana, the ground floor often served as storage, something along the lines of an above-ground basement. They also are surrounded by porches, which were made possible by the broad roof overhangs constructed to provide shelter from the summer sun.

With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Anglo-American influence came to Ste. Genevieve, bringing with it such architectural styling as Cape Cod and blends of styles. That is to be expected, since the land directly across the river (Randolph County, Illinois) was then a part of Augusta County, Virginia. In those days, the states of West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois had yet to be established. It is thought that many of the French settlers on the east bank of the river moved to Ste. Genevieve in order not to live under British rule.

William Clark, explorer and partner of Meriwether Lewis, wrote about Ste. Genevieve in 1803, noting that the town was also known as “Misar” in reference to the misery the residents had experienced after the 1785 flood. At that time, Ste. Genevieve was home to about 120 mainly French families.

Far and away the grandest piece of architecture in Ste. Genevieve is Ste. Genevieve Catholic Church. Built between 1876 and 1879, it stands on the site of the original log church, which was built circa 1754 and moved to this site after the flood in 1794. A stone church replaced the log church in 1837, and the present church was built around the stone one. The present church is built in the Gothic style of red brick and features many details of a cathedral, including multiple altars and a steeple “...that will tower and rise toward heaven, and a cross upon its summit that will overlook everything...” (The Ste. Genevieve Fair Play, 1874).

Today, Ste. Genevieve is experiencing a surge of popularity with tourists, who enjoy the colonial atmosphere, stay in bed-and-breakfasts housed within some of the French Creole structures, and shop in quaint shops along the narrow streets. Some even venture north of town to ride the Ste. Genevieve-Modoc Ferry ("The French Connection") across the Mississippi River to Randolph County, Illinois.

Read more about Ste. Genevieve and see pictures of the French Colonial structures on these sites:

Web Site: Tales Along the Way Home: A Story of Growing Faith

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