The Ste. Geneviève Grape
During the 1800s, Ste. Geneviève had its own type of grape. It went by various names, Ste. Geneviève, Amoureux, Red Elben, and American Rulander. It was grown extensively in the Hermann MO and Ohio areas. Today, it is no longer grown.
Ste. Geneviève people have been making wine for its entire existence. Originally, the early French made wine from wild grapes growing up in the trees. The phrase, making the vintage with a hatchet, referred to the practice of cutting down trees in order to get to the grapes. The wine was also made from local fruits and berries.
Many locals still make their own wine. Today, Ste. Geneviève County is home to numerous wineries along the Route de Vin Trail.
The Roads Less Traveled
Ste. Geneviève County is home to three historic roads.
Three Notch Road: The earliest was the Three Notch Road that went from Ste. Geneviève to the lead mines at Mine la Motte.
The King’s Road: The second road was started in 1779 and became known as the King’s Road, or El Camino Real in Spanish, and eventually Kingshighway. There is a rural portion of this road north of downtown Ste. Geneviève that visitors can drive.
The Plank Road: The third historic highway was the 1852 Ste. Geneviève, Iron Mountain, and Plank Road. Constructed of wood, it was the longest such road built in Missouri and was used primarily to haul iron products from Iron Mountain west of present-day Farmington to Ste. Genevieve for transshipment on the river.
Visitors can drive a rural portion of Lime Kiln Road west of Ste. Geneviève.
The Patron Saint of Paris
Did you know the “Ste” in Ste. Geneviève is the abbreviated form of Sainte because the town is named after a French female saint? Ste. Geneviève lived around 400 AD and was well-loved by the French. She is known as the patron saint of Paris since she is attributed to having saved Paris from Attila the Hun.
The Church of Ste. Geneviève has a large statue of her above the front doors, a side altar dedicated to her, and a famous painting “The Vows of Ste. Geneviève” which is purported to have been given to the parish by King Louis XV.
A wall in the local post office was the canvas for a special mural commissioned by the federal government. As post offices were being built around the country in the early 1900s, 10% of the budget was directed towards art.
Around the same time, Ste. Geneviève established its own Art Colony similar to the one in Providence, Rhode Island.
Members included: Jessie Beard Rickly, Thomas Hart Benton, Aimee Schweig, Miriam McKinnie, Martyl Schweig Langsdorf, Sister Cassiana Marie, Joseph Meert, Bernard E. Peters, E. Oscar Thalinger, and Matthew E. Ziegler
Today, Ste. Geneviève has an Art Guild. There are also art galleries, art walks, opportunities to participate in Plein Air, “in the open air” painting, and a variety of art-related activities throughout the year.
The Walls Do Talk In Ste. Geneviève
While not known as the birthplace of any literary figures, Ste. Geneviève has hosted its fair share of authors. The Green Tree Tavern was once the destination for writers passing through town.
Henri Brackenridge, a 7-year-old boy from Pittsburgh was sent to Ste. Geneviève in 1793 for three years to learn French. He describes Ste. Geneviève in his book Recollections of Person and Places in the West and on his return to Ste. Geneviève in 1811, commented, “A sign on the other side of the Gabarie having caught my eye, I resolved to make for it – in former times private hospitality was the only dependence of the traveler.”
Other authors who enjoyed the “private hospitality” of Ste. Geneviève were Thomas Ashe and John Maley.
The Final Resting Place
Considered the oldest cemetery in Missouri, the Memorial Cemetery is home to around 275 tombstones while the number of people buried there is between 3500 to 5000.
Among those individuals are a US senator and his wife who have been buried 3 TIMES! It’s also the final resting place for Missouri’s first United States representative.
The wide range of peoples interred in the Memorial Cemetery are indicative of the confluence of Ste. Geneviève’s population.
The cemetery was a communal burying ground including early pioneers – Africans both enslaved and free, Native Americans, both American Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers, and a mass burial site for victims of a local steamboat explosion among others.
Don’t forget to satisfy your palette with some local cuisine. Here are a couple of local treats on the opposite ends of the culinary spectrum.
A little butcher shop on the outskirts of Ste. Geneviève is home to the famous Oberle sausage, or as it’s more commonly known the Oberle Dog. The Oberle Dog is courtesy of Ste. Geneviève’s German heritage. Germans from the Southern Black Forest region immigrated here from the 1830s to the 1870s when the Oberle family brought their sausage recipe to the area.
Nuts for Ste. Geneviève – Pecans
If you’re looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth, try some pralines made from the pecans of the Carya illinoinensis tree. Known for its naturally sweet taste, this pecan tree is native to Missouri and can be found growing in the deep alluvial soils of the Mississippi River.
“Flat-boatmen drifting down the river at night could know when they are passing Ste. Geneviève by the perfume of the flowers wafted across the river.” ~New York Times Aug 22, 1935 Page 14
Staying true to their past, the sweet smells of perfume still waft in Ste. Geneviève. Enjoy the colonial gardens at the Felix Valle, J. B. Valle, and the Bolduc houses, as well as several mini-gardens located around town. Also, the Master Gardeners of Ste. Geneviève hosts garden walks and tours each year.
An enduring symbol of Ste. Geneviève’s French culture, the fleur de lis, is based on the lily, the official town flower. Fleur de Lis can be seen all over Ste. Geneviève.
Following Nature In Her Walks
“During all these years there existed within me a tendency to follow Nature in her walks.”
~ John James Audubon
That “tendency” inspired the naturalist and ornithologist, John James Audubon to follow Nature when he came to Ste. Geneviève in 1812.
After a brief stint as a storekeeper with his business partner Ferdinand Rozier, Audubon soon abandoned that venture for the work that would define his life.
Visitors can learn more about this visionary in the lobby of the hotel named after him.
Hikers can “follow Nature in her walks” in the same scenic areas Audubon did – Hawn State Park, Pickle Springs, Hickory Canyon, and Magnolia Hollow. And closer to town, visit the Ste. Geneviève Levee Wildlife Refuge and Lake Audubon in Ste. Geneviève.
Ste. Genevieve’s Pere Marquette Park hosted a Professional Disc Golf Association-sanctioned tournament on Sunday (August 23).
The Pere Marquette Open, which teed off at 9 a.m., was the first tournament of its kind in Ste. Genevieve. Competitors played 36 holes. Categories included open, advanced, intermediate, recreational and junior. Professionals in the open division competed for prize money.
Ste. Genevieve gets national park designation, but much remains to do before it will open
STE. GENEVIEVE, MO. • The iconic National Park Service arrowhead emblem that directs visitors to famous national landmarks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, will eventually point tourists to a small Mississippi River town where French houses date to the 1700s.
The long-sought formation of the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park was approved by Congress and signed into law March 23. It authorizes the National Park Service to acquire about 13 acres, including historic buildings, for inclusion in the park about an hour south of St. Louis.
Getting the national park designation was the culmination of 20 years of effort that local officials hope will bring more tourists to the town of nearly 4,500.
Now comes the job of getting it open. When that will happen, likely a few years from now, and specifics about how it will function largely remain unknown.
“We want to see things happen at a fast pace, but I don’t think you can do that, especially when you’re dealing with the federal government,” said Paul Hassler, the town’s mayor for the past year. “There are things that have to be in place and it’s going to take some time.”
He and many others in Ste. Genevieve are bullish on the boost that a national park site will bring to the town, and are eager to work with the National Park Service to do what needs to be done.
Hassler was part of a group who went to Washington last fall to speak before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources to push for the designation. Three people from his Ste. Genevieve contingent dressed in traditional French garb, which is a familiar site around the town — its French colonial past is a core part of the town’s identity, and tourism is a vital part of the area’s economy.
The original Ste. Genevieve settlement was founded around 1735 — the first permanent European settlement in what is now Missouri. The town is famous for its historic buildings that have survived the centuries, especially those using “poteaux-en-terre” construction, which means “posts-in-the-earth” and refers to its vertical logs built directly on the ground. Ste. Genevieve is home to three such buildings, part of the largest concentration of colonial French architecture in North America.
Some of the town’s many old buildings already are owned by the state and private groups who give tours, and also by people who live in them.
Between 25,000 and 40,000 people visit the town each year, said Sandra Cabot, its director of tourism. She said that number is conservative, and could double once the national park is open.
“Even buying gas — everything contributes to the local economy,” she said of the expected spike in tourists.
Developing a timeline is the next step in getting the national park running, she said.
No land for the park has been acquired, and the soonest it could be funded would be next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, said Alexandra Picavet, a National Park Service spokeswoman.
Typically, a new park site would start with a budget of perhaps $150,000 with one staff member to spearhead the planning process.
“All new parks start small and grow over time,” she said.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2016 that acquiring the land for the Ste. Genevieve park would cost about $335,000, and that state-owned property within its footprint likely would be donated to the park service. Privately owned property was expected to be purchased by the park service over five years.
The office also estimated the park service would spend about $1 million a year on maintenance and operating costs for the park after the property is acquired.
The Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, under the current design, would be in two sections.
The smaller area would be a 4-acre parcel including the state-owned Delassus-Kern House on U.S. Highway 61. A resource study and environmental report released in 2016 calls it “a large example of vertical log architecture encased in late Victorian additions” that has been owned by the state since 1993. No significant stabilization has been done, the report said, partly because of work to learn more about the house’s origins and partly because of restoration costs.
The biggest portion would be about 2.5 miles away, on St. Mary’s Road just outside the town’s historic downtown. That area, about 9 acres, would include the state-owned Bauvais-Amoureux House, which is part of the Felix Valle State Historic Site, and adjacent properties, such as a former inn known as the Creole House.
That chunk of land also would cover the Bequette-Ribault House, which was restored by owner Hank Johnson, who also owns Chaumette Vineyards & Winery just outside of Ste. Genevieve.
Johnson gives tours and hosts wine tastings at the house, which dates to 1808 and is significant for its original Norman truss roof and poteaux-en-terre construction.
He is thrilled about the national park designation, and said he is interested in exploring a public-private partnership with the National Park Service for his site, which includes the Lasource-Durand cabin.
That could happen. Legislation authorizing the park encourages agreements between the park service and other landowners, said Picavet, the park spokeswoman.
“The energy and the interest the community has shown in this site is a great indicator of how we’ll be able to work together in the future,” she said.
Such a shared arrangement seems unlikely for a modern-day business like the Huck and Roth Garage, a boat-repair shop in the proposed national park’s boundaries.
Jerry Roth, who has owned it for more than 50 years, said he’ll wait to see if he gets an offer to sell to make way for the future park.
“I’ll have to make up my mind then,” he said.
Local business owners say the national historical park designation will highlight Ste. Genevieve’s charms.
The town seems to be hidden, said Judith Sexauer as she readied her art gallery and frame shop, Galleria Ste. Genevieve, for an art walk on a recent Friday. The building dates to 1860.
“There are people who just go to national parks,” she said. “I think this is going to add to getting us on the map in darker letters.”
Sara Menard is excited too. She’s president of the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve, and owns Sara’s Ice Cream shop.
The foundation would keep its properties, including the Guibourd-Valle house, which it would continue to operate separate of the national park site. Menard is hopeful the foundation will benefit from the National Park Service being in town.
Nelson and Delia Nix of Oakville toured another historic building, the Felix Valle house recently. Both said Ste. Genevieve already had the feel of a national park, so much so that they asked for a National Park Service passport stamp after the tour.
The Valle house is set to remain state-owned, but the Nixes will be able to take another day trip south and get that stamp someday — whenever the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park opens.