Missouri’s First Settlement Turns a New Page
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of Ste. Genevieve Tourism.
In August 2014 I made my first multi-day trip to Ste. Genevieve (pop. 5,500), America’s Original French Colonial Village. Prior to that I had made a few stops for meals when returning home from St. Louis, one hour from Ste. Genevieve. Then in early September of this year I returned to Ste. Genevieve (or Ste. Gen as some call it). In fact, I can visualize having a small apartment there. Perhaps it’s my father’s French ancestry (Normandy, France) that keeps drawing me back to this charming city.
It has been listed on America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and most recently the scenic and charming Ste. Genevieve, Missouri’s oldest town, is now under consideration as a new National Park, according to Sandra Cabot, Director of Ste. Genevieve Tourism. “There has been a recommendation by the U.S. Department of the Interior that Ste. Genevieve be considered as a future National Historic Park site,” said Cabot.
In addition, the Green Tree Tavern along St. Mary’s Road that looks out over Les Grand Champs (The Big Field) is the oldest French colonial structure (1799) built by a French Canadian from Quebec. “This tavern played an important part in Ste. Genevieve’s story,” stated Cabot. “It celebrated its opening in September. By the spring of 2019 the tavern will be added to the list of tourist attractions in Ste. Gen. It will certainly be a grand addition. A huge structure, it is probably the most handsome and impressive structure from the outside of the building.”
“Fall is such a sweet and sentimental time and one of the best seasons for both weather and scenery. If you are looking for a weekend or mid-week escape, or if you need to rekindle your holiday cheer, you can be sure to find just what you’re looking for here!”
— Sandra Cabot, Director Ste. Genevieve Tourism
History Of St. Genevieve
Founded in 1735, St. Genevieve (Genevieve was the patron saint of Paris, France) is the oldest permanent European settlement in the state of Missouri. Established on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the village of St. Genevieve was settled 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 St. Genevieve’s earliest residents were French Canadian habitants who farmed the rich, alluvial soil adjacent to the village. They also produced salt and mind lead from nearby sources.
World events impacted the inhabitants of Ste. Genevieve in 1762 when France ceded all its 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 1787 triggered the gradual relocation of the village to higher ground to its present location between the forks of the Gabouri Creek.
Much of the charm and ambiance of historic Ste. Genevieve 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 are found in the historic homes of colonial Ste. Genevieve as well as in Quebec, Canada and Normandy, France.
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. Today there is a curious mix of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century architecture found in Ste. Genevieve. Mid-nineteenth century German immigrants left their legacy of charming rock and brick homes and stores through the community.
Today Ste. Genevieve’s National Landmark Historic District offers visitors an unparalleled glimpse into its colonial past.
Did You Know?
Ste. Genevieve is Missouri’s first settlement, founded by the French in the early 1700s.
Named by “Country Living Magazine” as One of the 50 Most Beautiful Places in America
Ranked 3rd by “Only in Your State” as one of the 17 Most Charming Towns in America
Late afternoon on Friday, September 1 (Labor Day weekend) I arrived at the Ste. Genevieve Great River Road Welcome Center. There I picked up literature including my itinerary, B&B info, a Visitor’s Guide, a Wine Country map, Hiking Trails map, French Colonial brochure and an Historic District map. Then I watched a short video of the city as I had not seen it in several years.
At 5 pm I checked in at the Main Street Bed & Breakfast located at 221 N. Main Street where I was warmly greeted by Innkeeper Jean Sellberg (Her personality is well suited to inn keeping.) She assigned me the Trope Ricard Room upstairs, which has a porch outside the room that during certain hours is a private porch.
Originally built in 1882 as the Meyer Hotel, the Main Street Inn B&B has long been considered one of Missouri’s finest bed and breakfast establishments. Having recently undergone an extensive year-long renovation, the new owner (Dr. Susan McDonald) and innkeeper Jean Sellberg are thrilled to re-open this inn.
My guest room was attractively furnished and had all of the necessary amenities. Upon arrival wine and cheese were offered, and the breakfast the next morning was excellent. Late Saturday afternoon refreshments were served in the parlor to the inn’s guests.
Website: www.mainstrinn.net; phone: 573-880-7500
About an hour later a friend and I strolled two blocks to dinner and en route we popped into Only Child Originals (jewelry designer and metal arts sculptures) and peeped in the windows of other shops.
Our dinner at Audubon’s Bar & Grill (9 North Main), which as I recall was being rehabbed on my previous visit to Ste. Genevieve, was excellent. Regional dining specialties are offered at Audubon’s. The signature dish is Chicken Baetje (goat cheese, their spin on Cordon Bleu). After a delicious meal, I ordered a chocolate martini for a nightcap. Greg Ferguson, one of the four owners who restored the historic building built in 1903, warmly greeted my friend and me as did several of the other owners of this building. Breakfast is served only on Sunday from 10am-2pm. Lunch and dinner are offered Tuesday through Saturday.
A hotel with 8 guest rooms is scheduled to open upstairs this spring.
On Saturday, September 2 I awakened to a sunny, slightly chilly day. After a sumptuous breakfast with other guests in the large dining room, there was time to shop and discover some of the new shops that were not in Ste. Gen on my last visit. The shops include RUST on North Main; the Show-Me Shop, which is always busy and is a must-stop for me with cheeses and wines, culinary tools and cookbooks, as is European Entitlements with fine home and garden décor and beautiful coffee table books. Add to your shopping list the Belle Ever After Boutique near Main and Merchant and First Settlement Antique’s new location next door to Sara’s Ice Cream. I wandered up Merchant Street, stopping in at the revamped gift shop of the Felix Valle State Historic Site, and the new shop RustikSandKandles, and Simple to Sassy (corner of Merchant and 3rd).
Note the newly restored DuBourg Centre, a posh reception center owned by the Catholic Church of Ste. Genevieve.
What a gorgeous church this is! This Gothic-style brick church, which will seat 2,000 people, has beautiful stained glass windows, statues, marble altars and two paintings given to the church by King Louis XVI of France.)
One block away is a trio of new shops: What-Nots and Oddities (across from the Courthouse Square), Rhinehart and Rhinehart’s Art Gallery (a native of St. Gen recently returned after a storied career as an artist; the wall-sized paintings are astounding!) and the ASL Pewter Foundry on Third Street across from the Southern Hotel B&B. There you may watch the artisans at work and shop for lead-free pewter in original designs—some new and some dating to the 1700s. For lovers of vintage jewelry visit Steiger’s Estate Jewelry downtown on Merchant Street.
Ste. Genevieve Calendar Of Events
November 11: Cookie Crumb Trail
November 18: Harvest Celebration on the Route du Vin Wine Trail
December 1, 2 & 3: Holiday Christmas Festival
December 10: French Christmas at the Felix Valle House
Ste. Genevieve Wine Country
A short half hour drive from Ste. Genevieve is the wine country of Missouri. It is especially beautiful in the autumn.
“The wine country is a big tourism draw and it ties in to our local heritage, both of the French and subsequent German influence on wine making traditions,” said Sandra Cabot, Tourism Director. “The beauty of the combination of the wine country and the historic District, which is a national landmark historic district, is that it makes for a perfect 2-3 day visit. You can do the historic sites, the shopping, downtown activities in one day, the wine country the next, and beautiful hiking, biking and scenic tours. There are several hot spots for antiquing in St. Genevieve County. One is St. Mary’s Antique Mall, which can easily take two hours to wander down its aisles, and others are Schultz’s Antiques and First Settlements. Note: St. Mary’s, Missouri is only a 10-minute drive from downtown Ste. Genevieve.
There are 11 wine trails and 10 wineries and microbreweries. A new amenity that originated in 2016 is now available for private charters or on weekends you can reserve a seat and it will pick you up at your downtown Ste. Gen hotel or B&B and take you through wine country. Groups also reserve the trolley for historic district tours. Step-on tours are offered. For more information visit www.VisitStGen and follow the links to transportation (click on Vines to Wines).
Recently Chaumette Winery, owned by Hank Johnson, won several awards, as did Crown Valley. On my last visit I had the privilege of being a guest at Chaumette in a lovely private villa decorated with a Country French flair. I toured an historic on-site chapel and a special events barn, visited the Tasting room, and overindulged at lunch at the Grapevine Grill.
Mid-afternoon a friend and I explored the new parts of the Wine Country: Watertower Winery, Weingarten Winery and the Garten Haus Restaurant.
Back in town, even though I needed a nap at this point, I did more shopping in downtown Ste. Genevieve. One of my favorite quaint shops is Odile’s Linen and Lace, Etc., which features curtains, table laces, pillowcases and handkerchiefs; scarves, hats, jewelry, heirloom caps for babies, gowns and it even has Downton Abbey merchandise. My final stop downtown was the Sainte Genevieve Winery at 245 Merchant St. This shop is open daily from 11 am-5 pm, and it features a full line of premium and traditional wines and wine-related gifts. I purchased several Christmas gifts there.
On Saturday evening I enjoyed my guest room at the Main Street Inn, read and relaxed.
On the morning of my departure, a Sunday, after another delicious breakfast with convivial guests, I met the multi-talented Yvonne LeMire, owner of the Rosemary and Thyme Cooking School. She was preparing for a cooking class called “Ladies Who Lunch.” I was invited to participate, but my schedule did not permit me to do so. She graciously spent time with a friend and me in her lovely Country French home located next door to the Show Me Shop on Main Street.
On my way out of town I drove over to the Bequette Ribault House at 351 St. Mary Road to see the progress made since my last visit in 2014. Most days the owner has a tour guide to explain the history of the home and outbuildings.
As I departed the charming town of Ste. Genevieve, I knew I would return some day (soon, I hope). I am already looking forward to a return visit. Check out the busy Calendar of Events. How about going on the Cookie Crumb Trail in November or celebrating a French Christmas the first full weekend in December or “La Guignolee,” a French tradition on New Year’s Eve? Ste. Genevieve has captured my heart as it will yours.