What do you think? NPS looks at Ste. Genevieve
By Jo Schaper
Scanning the Net news headlines popped up this report that National Park Service officials recently toured Ste. Genevieve as part of an ongoing study whether or not Park Service wants to get involved in historic preservation of architecture in that town. The study was commissioned in 2005, and the report is due out in 2013, assessing how, or if, national resources are needed to help conserve two hundred year old buildings, of a French style found only in Missouri and Louisiana.
Ste. Genevieve was founded by the French in 1735, with the current town dating to the 1760s after the original settlement was destroyed in a flood.
Last September, as part of the Association of Missouri Interpreters (park naturalists) meeting, I toured a number of the homes, and after lunch, the Catholic church, when a visit to the historic cemetery proved unworkable due to foul weather. We visited the Bauvais-Amoureaux house, the Jacques Guibourd house, the Felix Valle Home, and the Dr. Benjamin Shaw home.
Everywhere we went, we met knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents and interpreters. It was obvious every one of them considered their work a labor of love for the French heritage of the area.
Maintaining historic properties is difficult, time and money consuming work. Unlike a modern house, fixing something which breaks due to age but being true to the original construction requires research, and in some cases, materials and even tools which are no longer available. Fees at these sites are reasonable; we dropped more money at lunch than at any site for a professionally appointed tour.
At the Amoureaux House, we were even invited to crouch beneath the building, (actually in the dirt floored cellar) and examine the construction firsthand. We were part of an arranged tour, of course, but we found little French pastries, still warm from the oven, waiting for us. I was fascinated by an old map over a fireplace mantle–drawn in the 1700s, it showed a slightly distorted shape for the eastern United States, but it was still an amazing feat for cartographers of the time.
One of the advantages of the way historic Ste. Genevieve is presented is that the people giving the tours are local folks. For the most part they are very knowledgeable, with information gathered mostly on their own time and at their own expense. They do not have the resources of the National Park Service, but what they may lack in resources, they make up in sheer love and delight for the properties they caretake.
What do you think? Would National Park Service involvement in Ste. Genevieve be a good thing or a bad thing? Joyeux Noël et bonne année everyone!