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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark STE. GENEVIEVE

Location: Ste. Genevieve County.

Ownership and Administration. Various.

Significance. Ste. Genevieve, one of the oldest surviving French settlements in Missouri and in the trans-Mississippi West, is the only place in the upper Mississippi Valley where several buildings of the pre-American period have survived. The oldest European settlement in the region, Cahokia (1699), suffered heavily from floods; Kaskaskia (1703) was entirely washed away by a change in the course of the Mississippi; and the remnants of colonial St. Louis were destroyed either by the fire of 1849 or by urban riverfront development.

The date of the first French settlements in the vicinity of Ste. Genevieve cannot be determined. Lead had been discovered by 1715 about 30 miles to the southwest, and was being mined by primitive means. The earliest known grants of land were made in 1752, when 27 inhabitants owned about 3 miles of Mississippi River frontage. The original site of settlement, probably in the period 1735-40, was in the river bottom on the west bank of the Mississippi about 3 miles below the present town. The settlement was probably linked with Kaskaskia, almost directly across the river, then the metropolis of Illinois. Salt springs on Saline Creek, as well as the lead resources, were probably an important factor in the expansion of the settlement, from which shipments were made upstream to St. Louis or downstream to New Orleans. The settlers also grew foodstuffs for export.

Floods, notably one in 1785, caused repeated damage, and the town was moved gradually to the present site on high ground. By 1796, only a few huts of traders remained at the old site. Ste. Genevieve—the principal seat of government in the region for many years after western Louisiana passed from French to Spanish control in 1762—thrived under Spanish administration. It declined, however, as St. Louis gradually grew in importance. In 1803, the Louisiana Territory passed to the United States.

Present Appearance. The current population of Ste. Genevieve is about 4,000. Noteworthy historic buildings include the following:

(1) Bolduc House. Probably erected about 1785 by Louis Bolduc, prosperous lead miner, merchant, and planter, it has been carefully restored by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America and opened to the public. Featuring a porch (galerie) on all four sides, construction of vertical posts on a stone foundation, and fine large Norman trusses supporting the roof, it is one of the least changed early French houses in the Mississippi Valley.

Bolduc House
Around 1785 Louis Bolduc, a prosperous miner, merchant, and planter, built this house in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. It has a porch on all four sides, vertical posts on a stone foundation, and Norman roof trusses.

(2) Meilleur House, also known as the Old Convent. This two-story frame structure was built about 1815 for the private dwelling of René Meilleur, Louis Bolduc's son-in-law. Around 1837, the Sisters of Loretto bought it and conducted a school there until 1848. The walls are nogged with brick.

(3) Jean Baptiste Valle House. This one-and-a-half story Creole dwelling was the "State House" of the territory up to the time of the Louisiana Purchase and the home of the last commandant under the Spanish administration. It was probably built about 1785. The basic construction is similar to that of the Bolduc House, but it has been more altered. The heavy tapered beams supporting the second floor are exceptionally long.

(4) Mammy Shaw House. This house derives its name from the widow of one Dr. Shaw, a former occupant. Its origins are uncertain, but it is one of the oldest houses in the community. It is now used as a restaurant.

Mammy Shaw House
Mammy Shaw House, a late 18th-century structure in Ste. Genevieve.

(5) Janis-Ziegler House, or Green Tree Tavern. This attractive structure represents in some respects the architectural transition in Ste. Genevieve from old French to typically American forms. It was probably built in the 1790's, but does not have the Norman roof trusses. The signboard, dating from the period sometime in the 19th century when the building was used as a tavern, may be seen in the Ste. Genevieve Museum.

Janis-Ziegler House
Janis-Ziegler House, or Green Tree Tavern, in Ste. Genevieve. Probably built in the 1790's, the house combines French and American architectural styles. It served as a tavern sometime in the 19th century.

These structures, along with others not listed of equal or slightly less age, constitute an important and unique survival of the French regime in the Mississippi Valley. [38]

NHL Designation: 10/09/60

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005