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Ste. Genevieve Receives Long-Sought Honor Of National Historical Park

The historic Bequette-Ribault House in Ste. Genevieve was restored in 2014.
Chaumette Winery and Vineyard
The Bequette-Ribault House in Ste. Genevieve, restored in 2014, is one of the town's historic structures. The historic district has been recognized as a National Historical Park.

The National Parks Service formally dedicated the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park on Monday, recognizing the town’s cluster of historic buildings.

The step fulfills a long-held wish of people in the small town about an hour south of St. Louis.

Advocates for the federal designation say it will raise the town’s profile, potentially boosting tourism. The National Parks Service plans to add interpretive signs detailing the history of the district.

“This is something that the Ste. Genevieve community has been working toward for many years,” said Toby Carrig, director of tourism for the town. “It’s been a big community effort over the years to preserve and protect the historic structures that were built here.”

Carrig said the National Parks Service is taking over operation of the town’s visitors center and will print brochures, bring in personnel to give talks and tours and spend money on marketing.

“That’ll help tell the story,” he said.

A long history

Ste. Genevieve was the first permanent French settlement in what is now the state of Missouri. Its historic district includes several houses built in the 1700s.

Among them are three of the only five surviving houses in North America built with a style of construction called poteaux-en-terre, or post-in-ground.

A key step in the site’s journey to National Historical Park status was the federal government assuming ownership of two of those homes — theJean Baptiste Valle House, donated by the St. Louis chapter of the Colonial Dames of America, and the Beauvais-Amoureux House, previously owned by the state of Missouri.

The third, known as the Bequette-Ribault House, is in private hands. Hank Johnson, owner of the nearby Chaumette Vineyards and Winery, bought it in 2013 and converted it into a small museum that displays its history.

Congress commissioned the National Parks Service in 2006 to look into whether Ste. Genevieve merited inclusion in the National Park System. The final report, released in 2016, concluded that the town’s historic buildings constituted a unique and “nationally significant” resource.

A big milestone was reached in 2018, when Congress authorized the National Parks Service to create the park. Another came in February when Chris Collins was appointed its first park superintendent. Formal dedication and opening did not happen until Monday.

“A lot of people thought it would never happen,” Johnson said.

He estimated that fewer than 10,000 people visit the town’s visitors center annually, and that the National Parks Service’s 2016 report estimates that visitors to similar historic sites can exceed 60,000 a year.

“That will be a game-changer if it happens here,” Johnson said, adding that his business and others in the town would benefit. “That’s a wonderful part of this story.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.