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Ste. Genevieve’s historic French homes could get National Park Service status as soon as this year

(Courtesy: Chaumette Vineyards & Winery)
The historic Bequette-Ribault House in Ste. Genevieve was restored in 2014.

Updated May 9, 2016 at 10:40 a.m. with new information

The National Park Service has completed a multiyear study and is recommending that parts of Ste. Genevieve be included in the national park system. Before the land could become an NPS unit, either a law must be passed by Congress and signed by the president, or executive action must be taken by the president.

A letter from the United States Department of the Interior sent to key congressional leaders details the importance of the community’s historic French vertical log homes, many of which were built in the late-1700s.

“The boundary [seen below] of the potential NPS unit would include a cluster of seven historic and non-historic properties at one edge of the district, as well as a noncontiguous historic property two miles south of the district,” wrote Michael Bean, the principal deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the United States Department of the Interior.

“The NPS determined that the nationally significant area exemplifies an important aspect of American history not adequately represented and protected elsewhere, therefore meeting national park system suitability criteria,” Bean continued.

The report predicts an annual budget of between $800,000 and $1.2 million, plus the addition of six to 12 fulltime equivalent employees.

Final approval could come as early as this year.

The National Parks Service's proposed new district in Ste. Genevieve.
Credit NPS report
The National Parks Service's proposed new district in Ste. Genevieve.

Original story published on March 3, 2016

Residents in the town of Ste. Genevieve (about an hour south of St. Louis) are optimistic that the historic French community could receive a special designation from the National Park Service. The designation, similar to that of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in south St. Louis County, could come as early as this year.

In August of 2015, the National Park Service released results of a nine-year study that read, in part, “Ste. Genevieve stands alone in terms of the character, quality, quantity and rarity of its resources … and there are no comparably protected or managed areas.”

The report found Ste. Genevieve to be “nationally significant,” mentioning the large and rare collection of French vertical log houses that still stand in the area. Those houses date back to as early as the 1700s, as Ste. Genevieve was the first point of French settlement west of the Mississippi River.

“There are only five buildings in the United States that we know of that have this vertical log construction that’s a post in the ground, and three of those are in Ste. Genevieve,” said Tim Good, the superintendent of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Good volunteered to help Ste. Genevieve with its application to become a designated national historic site.

“It’s just remarkable that this place has these buildings and they are still preserved. The rest of them [have] vertical logs as well but they are posts on a sill,” Good told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh.

Sandra Cabot, director of Ste. Genevieve Tourism and Economic Development, said receiving a special designation from the National Park Service would be validation of a decade-long effort. “It will mean increased foot traffic and exposure for Ste. Genevieve, but the real true meaning for us is additional awareness of the unique architectural gems and cultural treasures that are here in Ste. Genevieve,” Cabot said.

The Bequette-Ribault House

The Bequette-Ribault House is among the many historic structures in Ste. Genevieve.

Hank Johnson, owner of Chaumette Vineyards and Winery, purchased the property in 2013. He began a restoration of the home, which opened as a museum about one year ago. “We have been bitten by the historic restoration bug,” he said.

Built in 1808, the Bequette-Ribault House is one in which the vertical logs were built directly into the ground. The prominent Bequette family constructed the home but then, in 1840, a former slave named Antoine Recole bought the property at auction for $405. Soon after, Recole sold the property to Clarisse, another former slave, for the same price.

“Can you imagine? This is a wonderful part of the story,” Johnson explained.

“This is 21 years before the Civil War, and she was a landholder of about four acres and a nice house and four outbuildings. That in itself is an extraordinary part of the story.”

Clarisse’s two children, who both adopted the last name Ribault, kept the house in the family for several generations until it was sold in 1969. Johnson said he is in the process of tracking down the Ribault family descendants in hopes of inviting them back to see the house in its current condition.

Ste. Genevieve could receive a special designation from the National Park Service as soon as this year.

“It’s possible the report would be released sometime this spring and that would be issued by the secretary of the interior. And then it’s sent to the United States Congress and then it would be up to the United States Congress to determine whether they wish to act on the report, part of the report, or otherwise to add it to the National Park System,” Good said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.