Established on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the village of Ste. Genevieve was settled in the early 1700s about two miles south of its present location. The village was one of several important French communities forming a region known 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 habitants who farmed the rich, alluvial soil adjacent to the village. They also produced salt and mined lead from nearby sources.
World events impacted the habitants of Ste. Genevieve in 1762, when France ceded all their holdings west of the Mississippi River to Spain as a result 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. The disastrous flood in 1785 triggered the gradual relocation of the village to higher ground to its present location between the forks of the Gabouri Creek.
Much of Historic Ste. Genevieve’s charm and ambiance is due to the remarkable preservation of the original colonial settlement. Its narrow streets and fenced gardens surround some of the most significant eighteenth century architecture in the nation. These French Colonial style buildings were constructed from massive, hand hewn logs that were set vertically to form the walls of the home. Heavy timbers were mortised and pegged into sturdy trusses that supported the impressive double-hipped roof covering the house and its wide galleries or 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, Canada and Normandy, France. Historians and architects continually study these buildings and their surroundings to better understand Ste. Genevieve’s link with its 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 newly expanded 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 businesses among the old French houses, creating the curious mix of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century architecture found today. Mid-nineteenth century German immigrants left their legacy of charming rock and brick homes, and stores throughout the community.
Today Ste. Genevieve’s National Landmark Historic District offers visitors an unparalleled glimpse into its colonial past. Now under development for becoming a National Historical Park, we are excited to welcome the National Park Service into our community. In Ste. Genevieve’s residents and organizations join together to preserve and interpret this most remarkable community for you to enjoy!