Une Femme Courageuse

Visitors to the historic Bauvais-Amoureux House in Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park usually marvel over its unique French colonial architecture – it is one of only five surviving poteaux-en-terre (meaning post-in-ground) houses in North America. But while the 1792 structure is truly unique, even more fascinating is the story of one of its owners, Madame Pélagie Amoureux.

Pélagie was an African American woman born in 1805 and enslaved by the Bauvais-Vitale family. She married Benjamin Amoureux, a white man, in 1830. Interracial marriage was not legal in Missouri at the time, so they traveled to Illinois to marry before returning to Ste. Genevieve. Their first son, Felix, was born in 1831 and was also enslaved by the Bauvais-Vitale family until he and his mother were freed in 1832. Pélagie and Benjamin were not allowed to live in the same house even while married, so Benjamin purchased a house for Pélagie from the family of Jean Baptiste Bauvais in the 1850’s, which they then renamed the Amoureux house.  The couple had five children over the course of their marriage and were finally allowed to live together as a family in the Amoureux house in the 1860’s.

An undated historic photo of Amoureux House. Credit: Library of Congress
Pelagie Amoureux and her family. Credit: NPS

Over the course of her life, Pélagie was not afraid to stand up for herself, despite being both African American and a woman. On three separate occasions, she sued people who threatened or harmed her. While the courts did not side with her in any of the cases, she still did what she could to stand up for her rights. Pélagie died in 1890.  Her children and their descendants continued to live in the Amoureux house until 1963. After changing owners a handful of times, the Bauvais-Amoureux house was donated to the National Park Service in 2019 as the first official property of Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

The park staff is committed to bringing to light the story of Pelagie and other overlooked figures from the town’s history.  We encourage you to take a ranger-led tour of the Bauvais-Amoureux when you visit the park.

The Bauvais-Amoureux House today. Credit: NPS

A Rocky Wonderland in the North Woods

Most people visit Voyageurs National Park to experience the scenic splendor of its forests, view its diverse wildlife, and enjoy boating on its pristine lakes.  However, there’s one surprising attraction at Voyageurs that owes its existence not to nature, but to one very imaginative, relentless craftsman. 

In the 1940s, Chicago carpenter Jack Ellsworth spent summers with his wife on land that later became the national park; it was there that he had a vision. He began to carve complex terraced gardens on a prominent rocky outcrop near his home, using the native materials that he found on-site. 

Over the next 20 summers, Ellsworth constructed 62 rock-bordered flower beds which he connected with stone stairways, grassy paths, bridges, and stepping stones.  He filled the terraced beds with more than 13,000 lilies and other flower varieties, creating a colorful artistic wonderland now known as the Ellsworth Rock Gardens on the shores of Kabetogama Lake.

Over time, Ellsworth accented his landscape with whimsical stone sculptures ranging from monoliths and carved animals to benches, chairs and tables.  Many of his sculptures are carefully balanced rock formations, created without mortar. 

The rock gardens soon became a popular tourist destination despite its remote location.  Ellsworth continued to maintain and embellish his gardens until the mid-1960s, when his health began to fail and he could no longer visit the area.  Without his supervision, the nearby forests slowly engulfed the terraced gardens and many of his sculptures deteriorated.

Soon after Voyageurs became a 218,000-acre national park in 1975, the National Park Service acquired the Ellsworth Rock Gardens land as well.  The aging cabins and outbuildings were removed but no real maintenance was performed on the area until the mid-1990s.  Then NPS staff and volunteers began removing the invading vegetation and shoring up the historic features.  They also built a new dock where park visitors can moor their boats during their garden visit (the site is only accessible by water) and installed interpretive signs. 

Credit: NPS

If you’re planning a trip to Minnesota this summer, carve out time to visit the Ellsworth Rock Gardens.  You won’t be disappointed.

Clinton’s “Birthplace” – in Japan?

If you haven’t made it to Hope, Arkansas, you haven’t had a chance to visit Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site.  Unless, of course, you’ve been to the Japanese island of Okinawa.  Wait…what?

We’re guessing you wouldn’t expect to tour the boyhood home of a U.S. president in Japan.  But you can (sort of).  Eccentric Japanese businessman Takeharu Shiraishi, an admirer of Bill Clinton, built an exact replica of the president’s birthplace home on the grounds of a private golf resort.  This was in 2000, just as the 42nd president was arriving in Okinawa for the G-8 Summit.  Clinton apparently never toured the building, though he later met Mr. Shiraishi.

The modest two-story house features the same white clapboard siding and green trim as its authentic counterpart in Arkansas.  It is even furnished much like the original, with period-appropriate furniture and antique appliances purchased in the U.S.  The home originally functioned as a tourist attraction then was later repurposed as a daycare center.  It has reportedly fallen into disrepair, unlike the real thing in Arkansas. 

So if you’re interested in experiencing the ACTUAL birthplace home of Bill Clinton, we suggest you take a trip to Hope.  National Park Service rangers give tours every 45 minutes Sunday through Friday.  You can also explore exhibits at the park Visitor Center and, of course, stop in at JNPA’s gift shop.  A virtual tour of the home is also available for non-travelers, as is our online store.  

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope, Arkansas

Rules to Live By

At this patriotic time of year, we often recall our nation’s founding fathers. Here at JNPA, we’re particularly fond of the visionary Thomas Jefferson, whom the National Park Service honors as part of the founding mission of Gateway Arch National Park.  But while Jefferson is famous for many reasons (let’s see — third U.S. President, author of the Declaration of Independence, signer of the Louisiana Purchase…), you might not be familiar with his lesser known Ten Rules of Conduct.

Thomas Jefferson often advised others, including his children and grandchildren, on how to conduct themselves and frequently developed lists of personal behavior for them.  In 1825, the year before he died, he imparted what he called “a decalogue of canons for observation in practical life.”  Some of these rules were borrowed from literary sources; others seem to be his own creation.

Credit: Library of Congress

Jefferson’s rules seem to be as relevant today as they were in the 1800s:

  1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.
Thomas Jefferson’s signature

If you decide to share Jefferson’s useful rules with the children in your family, why not also treat them to this mini-building block set? That way, they can build their own (4-inch) statue to Jefferson.

It’s Music to Our Ears

Can you guess which of JNPA’s museum stores sells harmonicas, a guitar-shaped bottle opener, and a St. Louis license plate magnet?  If you said the gift shop at the National Blues Museum, you’re right!  JNPA has operated this unique retail location since 2019, and you’ll find it chockful of cool music-related products that are found nowhere else. 

Credit: Explore St. Louis

If you haven’t paid a visit yet to the National Blues Museum, it’s high time to treat yourself.  The museum celebrates the blues as the foundation of all modern American music with high-tech exhibits, unique artifacts from famous musicians, and a state-of-the-art concert venue.  It’s open daily from 12-5 p.m.

The site’s location in downtown St. Louis is intentional.  Situated along the historic Blues Highway (Highway 61), the city had an important influence on the evolution of blues music.  Musicians and song writers performed there as they traveled from the South to the recording studios of Chicago.

The museum traces the development of the blues and its various styles.  It recognizes the musicians who created the musical genre as well as those who contribute to it today. To keep the traditions alive, part of the museum is devoted to an intimate concert space where audiences can hear local and touring blues artists perform.  And at the Thursday night Sittin’ on the Porch jam sessions, aspiring blues players are welcome to bring a musical instrument and sit in with the pros during the musical numbers.

When you visit the National Blues Museum, be sure to stop by our handsome store.  We feature a wide range of blues-themed merchandise, from books, CDs and instruments to hip apparel, bar glasses and gifts.  For instance, check out this snazzy hand-painted glass ornament . Proceeds from product sales – either at the museum or from our online store – help support the educational mission of the museum.     

Hold Your Horses!

There’s always a diverse crowd visiting our national park partners, but four-legged visitors?  Well, that’s who you’ll see at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site this Saturday.

As a tribute to Ulysses Grant’s lifelong passion for horses, the park will host Horses and Grant at White Haven this Saturday.  Horses from area ranchers and owners will be on hand to help park interpreters explain the central role that the animals played in the 18th president’s life.

Illustration by Leslie Przybylek 

From the time he was a small boy, Grant loved to ride, train, and care for horses.  Horses were also vital to him as a soldier and farmer.  He was an accomplished rider both in his military career and his private life, and owned a succession of horses throughout his life. In fact, it was thought he bought the White Haven property from his wife’s family after the Civil War mainly to breed and raise horses.

Original horse barn on the White Haven property

At the park this Saturday, there will be formal demonstrations on horsemanship, saddles, and the history of racing, as well as hands-on activities for children. The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; reservations are not required.  It is offered as one of the site’s Grant bicentennial activities.

Songs of Freedom

If you like rousing jazz and swing music, you’ll want to head to Little Rock, Arkansas, this Friday evening. The U.S. Army’s official touring big band, the Jazz Ambassadors, will present a 90-minute concert at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Credit: The U.S. Army Field Band

The theme of Friday’s concert is Songs of Freedom, Stories from the Civil Rights Movement.  It’s fitting that the musicians will be performing these selections at Central High, since it served as the frontline of America’s school desegregation battles in the 1950s. 

The 19-member Jazz Ambassadors have received widespread acclaim at home and abroad, earning the ensemble the title “America’s Big Band.” The musicians have performed in all 50 states and overseas.  Their stop in Little Rock is part of their Summer 2022 tour.  Check out the clip below to hear a snippet of their musical style.

The Songs of Freedom concert will take place outdoors on the park grounds on Friday, June 24 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.  It is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site at (501) 374-1957.

Credit: The U.S. Army Field Band

Oh, Fudge!

Stop the presses.  We have an important news flash:  National Fudge Day is just around the corner!  Actually, it’s not until June 16 but we’re letting you know early because – hey, fudge!  We also wanted to give you extra time to pop down to The Arch Store to pick up a box for yourself, or for your sweetie (sweetie, get it?), in time for the Big Day. 

Fudge is thought to have originated as a mistake.  Accordingly to legend, a candy maker in the late 1800s botched a batch of caramel he was making, but he ended up making something just as tasty.  And since the term “fudge” was already in use to describe a clumsy adjustment or nonsense, the name stuck!

Wondering why we sell fudge at The Arch Store, where our products have to adhere to the interpretive themes of Gateway Arch National Park?  Well among other things, we feature various foods, toys and other historical goods that were available in the early days of St. Louis, where pioneers and western explorers passed through on their way to the western frontier.  And fudge was as popular in old St. Louis as it is now.

The Arch Store makes its own fudge several days a week in a specially designed kitchen and we sell it at our historically themed fudge counter in the back of the store, often after giving customers free samples to try.  Our best-selling flavors are Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Peanut Butter-Chocolate and Gooey Butter Cake.  Mmmmm. 

So celebrate National Fudge Day with a trip to The Arch Store to get a sweet taste of the past.  And be sure to let us know which is YOUR favorite flavor!

Starstruck

How much do you know about the skies above us?  Well here’s a fun way to learn.  All would-be stargazers should mark their calendars for the return of the summer and fall Gateway to the Stars series at Gateway Arch National Park.  Visitors of all ages can join in the fun.

Credit: NPS

Each month from now through October, the National Park Service and the St. Louis Astronomical Society will offer public astronomy programs and telescope viewing at the Gateway Arch.  Each evening event will begin with a ranger talk and discussion inside the park’s Visitor Center at 6:45 p.m. followed by telescope viewings of the night sky just outside the Arch entrance beginning at 8:00 p.m., weather permitting.  Volunteers from the Astronomical Society will have multiple telescopes available for participants to use and will help interpret what people can see through the eyepiece.

Credit: NPS

The theme of each evening will differ.  No reservation is required except for the children’s program on July 10, which requires advance registration:

  • Sunday, June 12: Stories in the Stars The discussion will focus on the sky as a cultural resource and will include constellation stories from many cultures. Visitors will also be invited to share their sky stories.
  • Sunday, July 10: Kids Explorer Night Children ages 5-12 can earn their Junior Ranger Night Explorer patches as they build and take home their own Galileoscopes.  These are small refractor telescopes that allow viewers to see the same objects as famed astronomer Galileo Galilei such as craters of the moon and four moons of Jupiter. Space is limited.  Go to Gateway to the Stars: Kids Explorer Night for information on how to sign up.
Credit: NPS
  • Sunday, August 14: The New James Webb Space Telescope Learn about the newest space telescope, its “first light,” and early discoveries it has already made.
  • Saturday, September 3:  Lights Out Heartland  Speakers from Dark Sky Missouri will discuss the impact of light pollution on wildlife and the environment.
  • Saturday, October 8:   Theme to be determined.

Serving St. Louis’ Visitors

Let’s say you’re a tourist wandering around downtown St. Louis looking to pick up a fun souvenir or needing directions to a nearby attraction.  Where do you go?  Well, we have a place for you!

Head on over to Kiener Plaza, just west of Gateway Arch National Park, and look for the bright green Visitor Center.  That’s where you’ll find JNPA’s newest little retail shop as well as a visitor information booth staffed by Explore St. Louis.  Their friendly personnel can direct visitors to a wide range of tourist destinations and activities in the region.

And for those who want to take home a special souvenir from their visit, our store offers shirts, hats, drinkware and collectibles that sport a colorful St. Louis logo.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Kiener Plaza sits just west of the Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch.   The city park features winding paths and a lawn that can accommodate a variety of events, including a bicycle parking grove, a shade garden with café tables and chairs, benches, a fountain garden with a splash pad, a children’s play garden, and a statue honoring former Olympian Harry Kiener.

Stop by our shop and say hello next time you’re downtown.  Our store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday now through Labor Day.