Exploring French Colonial Ste. Genevieve
It was a weekend getaway for me as I decided to make my way down to southwestern Illinois and southeastern Missouri to get a little French history lesson. I didn’t know what to expect as I started driving south toward my destinations along and near the Mississippi River. My stops in Illinois included Prairie du Rocher, Fort de Chartres, Fort Kaskaskia and Pierre Menard Home State Historic Site.
As I explored these areas, I began to get a feel for the French influence on the region with the building of fortification forts along the Mississippi River to protect lands that were once controlled by France, as well as the unique French Colonial-style buildings.
My real and “jackpot” destination for the weekend was still to come: Historic Ste. Genevieve, Mo., a National Historic Landmark.
Located on the west side of the Mississippi River, a few miles from Modoc, Ill., visitors can travel to Ste. Genevieve via a toll ferry across the river, or travel south down to Chester where they can cross over the Chester Bridge and head northwest toward town.
Settled in the 1740s, the original settlement was located a few miles south along the river, until flooding forced residents to move to its present location on higher ground 40 years later.
Today, visitors will be impressed by the historical French Colonial-style buildings, beautiful gardens and flowers, art galleries, shops and restaurants, as well as bed and breakfast and other lodging establishments.
A Welcome Center greets visitors and offers various displays, information and refreshments.
Plan to bring a good pair of walking shoes as traveling by foot is really the best way to explore the charming village and historical buildings. Some of the buildings date to the late 1790s and early 1800s and are known as French-Colonial style, in that the walls were constructed with large logs which were positioned vertically. Hipped roofs and large, wide porches are also trademarks of these buildings.
Many of the buildings are open to the public for viewing; however a small fee is also charged to enter some of them, where interpreters share stories and bring the building’s history alive.
A must-stop also is Memorial Cemetery where visitors can view graves of some of the early founders of Ste. Genevieve, with a few of the headstones listing France as the birthplace of these settlers.
In addition, various festivals and special events are held throughout the year.
To gain an appreciation of the French influence in the “Illinois Territory,” take a weekend trip down to Ste. Genevieve, Mo. You’ll love the charm it offers, and history truly comes alive as you stroll along the charming streets in town and through 200-year-old buildings.
Walt Zyznienski is a freelance writer and photographer from Springfield.