The History of Ste. Genevieve
Perched on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the village of Ste.
Genevieve was settled in the late 1740’s about two miles south of its
present location. The village was one of several important French
communities forming a region know as the “Illinois Country”, part of the
vast territory held by France in North America at the time. Many of Ste.
Genevieve’s earliest residents were French-Canadian inhabitants who farmed the
rich, alluvial soil adjacent to the village, producing salt and lead from
nearby creeks and mines.
World events impacted the habitants of Ste.
Genevieve in 1762, when France ceded all her holdings west of the
Mississippi River to Spain at the close of the French and Indian War.
Despite the transfer and new Spanish government in the region, Ste.
Genevieve retained its distinctive French character and language. A
disastrous flood in 1785 triggered the gradual relocation of the village to
higher ground between the forks of the Gabouri Creek, the site of
present-day Ste. Genevieve.
Much of historic Ste. Genevieve’s charm and
ambiance is due to the remarkable preservation of the features of the
colonial settlement. Its narrow streets and fenced gardens surround some of
the most significant eighteenth-century architecture of the nation. These
“French-colonial” style buildings were constructed from massive logs, hewn
and set vertically to form the walls of the home. Heavy timbers were
mortised and pegged into sturdy trusses that supported the impressive hipped
roof covering the house and its wide porches. Fascinating variations of
this architectural style, known as poteaux-en-terre and poteaux-sur-sole,
are found in the historic homes of colonial Ste. Genevieve, as well as in
Quebec and Normandy. Historians and architects continue to study these
buildings, absorbed by these links with our French colonial past.
As the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 propelled
Ste. Genevieve into another chapter in history, its French-speaking
residents suddenly found themselves citizens of the United States. Soon the
rush of Americans into the Louisiana Territory left its mark in Ste.
Genevieve as well. Merchants, lawyers, and entrepreneurs settled in the
village, building their homes and business among the old French houses,
creating the delightful mix of early nineteenth-century architecture found
today. German immigrants in the mid-century left a legacy of charming brick
homes and stores throughout the community.
Today, Ste. Genevieve’s National Landmark Historic
District offers visitors an unparalleled glimpse into its colonial past.
Its residents join together to preserve and interpret this most remarkable