STE. GENEVIEVE, Mo
Around Southeast Missouri, most people already know about the historic French colonial homes that line the streets of Ste. Genevieve.
But creating a national historic site or a historic heritage area in the community could bolster tourism among out-of-state visitors and make federal money available for restoration and preservation of historic properties.
A bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, if passed, would authorize the National Park Service to do a feasibility study on creating a national historic site in Ste. Genevieve. The study would determine if three properties adjacent to an existing historic district meet federal criteria for national historic site designation.
The area being proposed for the site includes the Bauvais-Amoureux House, which is already operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as a historic site, the Creole House and the Bequette-Ribault House, which is privately owned.
The historic district that includes many of the homes built in the 1740s when Ste. Genevieve was settled are part of a national historic landmark district. But that doesn't include the Amoureux House or Bequette-Ribault House. Historic landmark district is a designation given by the National Parks Service to areas like archeological sites, places where prominent Americans lived or worked, or places where significant national events occurred. The designation is a means of protecting and preserving the landmark. Some designated districts in Missouri include Ulysses S. Grant's home, Harry S Truman's home and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
Both the Amoureux and Bequette-Ribault homes are known for their French Colonial construction, represented in a design that uses vertical boards in instead of horizontal wooden beams. Early French settlers built homes of upright cedar logs set directly in the ground -- a "poteaux-en-terre" method.
French Colonial construction is rare in America. Three of the country's five existing homes are found in Ste. Genevieve. By designating the Bequette-Ribault Home and Creole House area as a historic site, federal money could be used for renovations at those properties.
"The state already knows we're a veritable treasure," said alderman John Wibbenmeyer, but the national historic designation would provide even more credibility.
"We're fortunate to reach a wide variety of people, but this could put us on a national list," he said.
Several homes owned by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources operate as state historic sites. Others operate as museums or facilities devoted to the history of the early French living in America.
Sen. Talent said Ste. Genevieve is "a last-of-its-kind historical landmark, and more Americans should have the opportunity to explore its treasures." Talent is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held a hearing recently on the bill.
Jim Baker, historic site administrator for the Felix Valle and Amoureux homes, said that the study could provide the National Parks Service with data to show there's enough history and heritage to merit a national site designation.
And while the historic sites in Ste. Genevieve are important to the local economy because they boost tourism, the National Parks Service has to consider whether they "rise to the level of being something important to our national history," Baker said.
And after collecting information for the study, the parks service might offer other options for how the community could preserve its heritage, he said.
Wibbenmeyer said the community has lobbied for years to get a national designation. He said the idea is to find other people who see the value in the history and resources of Ste. Genevieve. "We just want to be put on the list so they don't forget us."
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