One step into Missouri’s oldest town and you’ll see why we’re smitten. St. Genevieve is small-town USA at its best.
The historic district breathes life into this picturesque community of under five thousand residents.
From the beauty of the vineyards to the traditions rooted deep in the town’s roots, there’s a lot to love about St. Genevieve. Overflowing with charm and Southern grace, it’s perfect for a weekend getaway in any season. And just the right amount of time to find even more than five reasons to fall in love with St.
- The Story
Although it’s hard to pinpoint the exact year the French settled in modern-day Missouri, St. Genevieve is believed to have been settled in 1735, roughly two miles south of its current location
Before St. Genevieve settled in its current location it was actually located roughly two miles south and settled in the early 1700’s. Known as America’s original French Colonial village, the community, along with several other French villages, formed the “Illinois Country.” Although the French released their hold on the region at the close of the French and Indian War, the people of St. Genevieve held fast to their culture. While Spanish influence began to creep through surrounding areas, the settlers here continued to speak their native language and their French roots were displayed for the next two and a half centuries.
In 1785 St. Genevieve was devastated by raging floodwaters. Historical records show that the waters rose twelve to fifteen feet deep, covering the tops of the near sixty homes in the settlement. The residents were forced to leave behind what they knew but established a new St. Genevieve and continue to flourish just two miles away, between the forks of the Gabouri Creek.
- The Charming Historic District The 1785 Louis Bolduc House Museum has been referred to as the “first most authentically restored Creole house in the nation,” and is built in the poteaux-sur-sole architecture style (photo courtesy of Andrew Balet)
St. Genevieve continued to grow with the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, and American settlers began to set up their own buildings alongside the French and German architecture that already existed. The result is St. Genevieve’s charming historic district. Most of the buildings have been carefully preserved and maintained, and the district contains the largest collection of French Colonial architecture in North America.
Speaking of the mix of architecture, the 1785 Louis Bolduc House Museum has been referred to as the “first most authentically restored Creole house in the nation.” Often used by the French Canadians, the poteaux-sur-sole style of timber framing in the house contains vertical log walls and a heavy oak timbered, double hip pitched roof. In fact, St. Genevieve contains the largest collection of French Colonial poteaux-sur-sole architecture in North America.
A stroll through many of the open homes throughout the historic district is a must, but also noteworthy is the Louisiana Academy. The Academy was established in 1807 by Father James Maxwell. It was the first chartered school in the Louisiana territory to teach not just French settlers but also black and Indian students in English and French. Today it is a private residence, retaining all its splendor, and available only for group tours by appointment.
- The TraditionsThe traditional French-American King’s Ball is depicted in this 1801 painting by George Heriot
The homes aren’t the only things the residents of St. Genevieve preserve. Traditions from their French ancestors are still upheld to honor the past and to be passed to the next generation.
St. Genevieve rings in the New Year with La Guiannée. The tradition goes back to Europe’s Middle Ages. On New Year’s Eve, the poor walked from home to home serenading the wealthy with a song. In return, residents gave the singers food or drink. For more than 250 years, the community has gathered in the historic district to carry on this centuries-old tradition in the streets, pubs, and restaurants.
The King’s Ball, originally held to celebrate Twelfth Night, takes place each February in St. Genevieve. Since the colonial days, residents have dressed in proper attire (today they still don colonial dress) and party like it’s 1799.
- The Wine Missouri’s Norton grape grows full and beautiful on these robust vines at Chaumette Vineyards and Winery in St Genevieve (photo by Don Kasak)
St. Genevieve’s love affair with the vine goes back to the first French settlers to the area in the 1700’s. They found the climate and soil to be the perfect companion to grow their vines and so St. Genevieve’s wine history began. Years later, German immigrants came to the settlement, and their influence is present in several wines throughout the wine country. Today there are nearly a dozen wineries and vineyards in and around St. Genevieve County.
Crown Valley Winery is by far the largest wine-making operation in the county. They are one of the largest producers of the Norton (Missouri’s state grape) in the country and offer 130 acres of vineyards on their 600-acre property. But if you are in the historic district, stop in St. Genevieve Winery. The oldest winery in the county, they offer relaxed wine tastings from fourth-generation wine makers.
- The LegendsPictured, the Guibourd Valle House’s carriage house, to rear of the gardens. The home has been called one of the oldest haunted houses in the country. (Photo courtesy of the Guibourd Valle House)
What old Southern town would be complete without a ghost story or two? America’s original French Colonial village has its fair share.
Known as one of the oldest haunted houses in America, the Guibourd Valle House, built around 1784, has had sightings from both humans and animals. It’s said that the dogs of the former owners, the Valle family, often growled at unseen things and seemed anxious to leave the house. But the dogs weren’t the only ones spooked, as both Mr. and Mrs. Valle reported ghost sightings and noises throughout the house. The living room, former slave quarters, and Mr. Valle’s room seem to have the most common occurrences. The house is now a museum, and one employee in particular claims to have heard voices—not to mention the harpsichord playing when no one else was in the house.
Not for the faint of heart, St. Genevieve ghost tours are offered year-round and aren’t likely to disappoint. It seems some residents have fallen in love with St. Genevieve so much they never leave!
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