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Developing a national park
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Developing a national park

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Each summer tourists descend on Ste. Genevieve to take part in events related to the history of the first permanent settlement west of the Mississippi.

The town has many homes that survive from the early days of the settlement with many being carefully preserved and open to tours. Last year, the National Park Service (NPS) created a new park within the city named the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

Currently, the NPS owns two of the homes and is in the process of preserving them and preparing them for tours.

Chris Collins was recently named superintendent of the park and explained some of the highlights of each house.

The Jean Baptiste Valle House is located at 99 S. Main Street. It was built circa 1793-94 and serves as Collin’s office and park headquarters.

“My vision of this house, which has never really had house tours in it, is to highlight the Valle Family, the last commandant,” he said. “The kind of progression of the different members of the family. To highlight a little about their businesses, their mining.

"Then also talk about something I don’t think is featured a lot in the community, that is how this property was built, and the slaves they had here, and some stories about them and the workers that built this house and then maybe the different renditions, because this house has been added onto three or four times.

The plan for this summer is to have exhibit panels that describe the family and the property. The current focus is on the exterior of the house and the historic rose garden attached to it. The plan is to have an interpreter stationed out in the garden.

“Supposedly this is the first formal rose or flower garden west of the Mississippi,” Collins said. “Mrs. Valle had connections and imported rose bushes from Europe. She wanted to bring a piece of Europe to the Mid-Mississippi Valley.”

Down the road is the Beauvais-Amoureux House. It is located at 327 St. Mary’s Road and was built circa 1792. Collins noted the roof structure is of hewn timbers forming Norman trusses in a French Canadian style.

“I would love to highlight the truss system in the attic,” he said.

Collin stated that the house is one of the only three poteaux-en-terre structures left in Ste. Genevieve. Poteaux-en-terre is an extremely rare post-in-earth construction that rarely lasts long. Modern buildings of similar construction use treated wood products not available at that time.

“It’s very rustic or simplistic, very much like a pole barn,” he said. “The reason they don’t exist is wood rots when it is directly in contact with earth. I’m surprised it still exists today. There are five of those houses left in North America."

Collins pointed out that a person of distinction in her time lived in the home, heightening the historical value of the building.

“There’s a program developed about Pegalie Amoureux, a pre-Civil War former slave, who owned this house and raised a multiracial family in this house,” he said.

“The other significant thing about this house is it’s one of the few original houses in town that still looks down on Le Grand Champ, or the Great Field. I hope we can tell about the themes of French Settlement, vernacular architecture and also common forms of farming. This house will allow us to tap into two of those themes.”

The house also contains a massive diorama of Ste. Genevieve as it existed in 1832.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com

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