Why We’re Thankful

Here at JNPA, we’re proud to serve as a non-profit partner of some of our nation’s most treasured public lands.  So in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to take a moment to list some of the many things we’re thankful for.

Living history programs that bring the past alive for visitors of all ages. 

(Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site)

Breathtaking scenery that inspires and enriches all of us.

(Voyageurs National Park)

Parks that honor the courageous men and women who fought for equality for all Americans.

(Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site)

Preserving America’s important historic buildings for future generations to enjoy.

(Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park)

Dedicated interpretive rangers from the Army Corps of Engineers who share the wonders of their sites with visitors.

(Lewis and Clark Visitor Center)

Energetic and committed National Park Service rangers who inspire children to become Junior Rangers.

(Voyageurs National Park)

Opportunities for recreation and enjoyment of the outdoors.

(Lewis and Clark Visitor Center)

Educators at all of our partner parks who share their love of public lands with tomorrow’s generation.

(Gateway Arch National Park)

Preserving the homes of America’s presidents as a way of helping us understand and connect with these important figures.

(President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site)

Honoring African Americans’ struggle to achieve freedom and respect in American society.

(Gateway Arch National Park)

Commemorating the diverse nationalities, traditions, and cultures that helped shape our nation.

(Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park)

Preserving critical wilderness areas that safeguard our nation’s biodiversity and ecological health.

(Mississippi National River and Recreation Area)

Protecting America’s rivers and streams that are so vital for drinking water, recreation, and commerce.

(Missouri National Recreational River)

Architectural marvels that enhance our nation’s cultural heritage and stimulate our imaginations.

(Gateway Arch National Park)

Many thanks to JNPA’s partner parks and all they do to protect America’s heritage, landscapes, and stories.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving’s Complicated History

Every schoolkid will tell you about the origins of Thanksgiving.  How the Pilgrims in Massachusetts shared a late autumn feast with members of the Wampanoag nation after the colonists’ first harvest in 1621.  How the celebration became an annual tradition commemorated throughout the growing nation.  And how Thanksgiving Day was eventually declared a national holiday that Americans still honor around the family dinner table.

Sound like what you learned in school?

Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner – Thomas Nast 1869

Well, as with so many accounts of our nation’s past, the Thanksgiving origin story is just a little more complex than that (and a lot more interesting).  And thanks to the historians at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, you can learn all about it this weekend. 

An annual day of thanks does indeed harken back to the very early days of our nation.  But it wasn’t observed only in Massachusetts.  In 1619, a group of English colonists celebrated a thanksgiving service and feast after their ship safely landed near Jamestown, Virginia, and they vowed to establish the tradition every year thereafter. 

Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically in various American colonies throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation encouraging a nationwide day of thanks, though his declaration had more to do with a religious observance than an autumn feast.  Governors of various states gradually embraced the idea, and the observance of Thanksgiving became more widespread – until the 1850s. 

For whatever reason, the origin of Thanksgiving – and indeed the young nation – had become associated with New England, not Virginia.  So as the national divide over slavery polarized the North and the South, southerners soured on anything associated with Massachusetts.  They considered Thanksgiving a “Yankee holiday” and adorned with that region’s symbols and traditions:  Pilgrims, turkey, pumpkins, and cranberries. So rather than celebrate the annual event, many Confederate sympathizers chose to fast on Thanksgiving, not feast.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation – Library of Congress

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday at the height of the Civil War in 1863, he was well aware of this controversy.  In his proclamation he intentionally refrained from mentioning any references to the geographic origins of the feast, instead looking at the shared holiday as a way to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

Union soldiers fighting in the war made the most of the new holiday as they paused to enjoy a special meal.  Their Confederate counterparts, however, most likely abstained.  

Today, as most Americans honor Thanksgiving with their own traditions, few probably realize the fraught history surrounding the holiday.  If you’re interested in learning more about its origins, you’re invited to a special ranger talk at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  Park historian Nick Sacco will share his insight on the history of Thanksgiving during the Civil War.  The lecture is free, but reservations are required.  Call (314) 842-1867 ext. 230 to sign up.

Meanwhile, warm Thanksgiving wishes from Jefferson National Parks Association!

♫”Well it goes from St. Louis, down to Missouri…”♫

What better way to celebrate the upcoming 96th anniversary of Route 66 than with a cool new license plate for your road car?  And since St. Louis is the largest city along Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles, this is a perfect time to sign up for a license plate commemorating the town’s beloved icon, the Gateway Arch.

On November 11, 1926, Route 66 was officially inaugurated as one of the nation’s original numbered highways.  It wound through small towns, around larger cities, and through undeveloped rural landscapes as it meandered from the Midwest to southern California.  The Mother Road eventually spanned 2,448 miles, though much of it was unpaved in its early days. 

The two-lane highway served as a primary route for people migrating westward during the Depression and Dust Bowl years.  In the 1940s it was an important supply route for soldiers and military equipment during World War II.  And in subsequent decades it became a cultural touchstone popularized in song and film.  But with the advent of the federal highway system and four-lane interstates, travelers bypassed numerous sections of Route 66 in favor of speedier journeys.  U.S. 66 was finally decommissioned as a federal highway in 1984 although various portions of the road have been restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Credit: Explore St. Louis

Today the enduring popularity of the Route 66 legend continues to lure tourists – especially foreign travelers – seeking a taste of Americana from another era.  Numerous Route 66 associations offer maps that highlight roadside attractions and markers along the original route, including those in the St. Louis area.

Whether you plan to celebrate the Mother Road’s anniversary by driving to some of the route’s nostalgic sites or you just want to cruise around your neighborhood in style, show off your pride in our renowned St. Louis icon with an Arch license plate (Missouri car owners only).  When you sign up for a plate on JNPA’s website, your tax-deductible donation will help support education programs at Gateway Arch National Park.  And you can order an Arch license plate at any time, regardless of your Missouri license plate expiration date.

So sign up today.  Soon your car will be the envy of your fellow drivers!

Preserving the Delta’s Heritage

The Lower Mississippi Delta Region is the cradle of rich multi-cultural traditions, brimming with stories and sites that testify to both our nation’s diversity and to its struggles. Helping preserve the region’s historic and cultural treasures is the focus of the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative (LMDI), a National Park Service grant program. This year, JNPA began administering the program on behalf of the Park Service, and we recently distributed funding to 23 amazing projects!

The Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative was established by Congress in 1994 to support archeological, historical, cultural, and heritage projects in the communities of the Delta Region. The Lower Mississippi Delta Region is comprised of 219 counties across the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Each year, the initiative awards Local Heritage Grants of up to $25,000 to not-for-profit organizations to complete projects pertaining to Native American culture and heritage, African-American culture and heritage, public roads and visitor use plans, regional music heritage, museums, HBCUs, archeological sites, and historic buildings and structures. This year we were proud to award 23 grants to organizations representing every state in the region.  Many of these organizations are small, emerging, and/or rural, and these grants can make a hug impact in their ability to achieve their mission.

This year’s projects included music festivals, murals, museum exhibits, educational programs for students, historic building renovations, historical markers, and others. One project that has already taken place, Arkansas Peace Week, featured activities to educate the public, promote peace, and raise awareness for local organizations. One such activity was a youth art contest with the theme of “End racism. Build peace.”

Madison McKnight, a senior at Jessieville High School, won first place in the 11th-12th grade division with her entry, “Peace Over Racism,” which depicted American civil rights activist Daisy Bates. Arkansas Peace Week.

JNPA is gratified to be a partner in this worthy project. “We are pleased to partner with the National Park Service in ensuring that communities throughout the Lower Mississippi Delta region have an opportunity to preserve and promote the culture and heritage of this vibrant region,” said David A. Grove, President and CEO of JNPA.

Other LMDI projects will be completed throughout the coming year, and we are excited to see the results! Applications for the 2023 grant cycle will be available next spring. Check the LMDI Local Heritage Grant Program website for updates.

Hidden Treasures?

When Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park joined the National Park Service (NPS) in 2020, historians already knew quite a lot about the 18th century French colonial village.  The unique vertical log construction of some of the homes was well documented, as were the interactions of the many different cultures and nationalities who migrated to the town.  But are there secrets still buried beneath the historic sites in Ste. Genevieve? 

Courtesy NPS

That’s what the Park Service wants to find out.  This summer agency officials dispatched specialists from the NPS Midwest Archeology Center to investigate the grounds of the park’s historic buildings, including the Jean Baptiste Vallé house, Green Tree Tavern, and the Bauvais-Amoureux house.  The archaeologists are searching for items such as the remains of trash pits, outbuildings like barns, kitchens and stables, and perhaps even a privy or two.

Researching spaces outside the main homes can reveal information about how people lived or worked on-site, including enslaved men and women or hired servants. Information like this is invaluable to creating a complete picture of a historic community, since accounts of these individuals are often left out of traditional records. With the help of MWAC, park officials hope to gain a better understanding of the history of the park’s buildings and their occupants.

Courtesy NPS

To locate artifacts or remains of old structures, the archeologists conducted geophysical surveys of each property they studied.  Among the state-of-the art instruments they used were magnetometers, ground-penetrating radar equipment, and electromagnetic induction meters.  (Pretty high-tech stuff!)  All of the data they collected will be analyzed over the next year or two, and the scientists will generate a comprehensive report of their findings.

The Midwest Archeology Center has conducted research for more than 70 NPS sites throughout the mid-continent.  Using high-tech equipment and good old-fashioned digging tools, its studies have ranged from 10,000-year-old American Indian campsites to the garbage in Abraham Lincoln’s backyard.

We can’t wait to find out what the archeologists uncover at Ste. Genevieve, and you can be sure we’ll let you know when we learn the results.  Meanwhile, be sure to pay a visit to the park to get a firsthand look at this amazing site.   

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

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.     

The Newest Addition to Ste. Gen is also the Oldest

The newest acquisition to Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park’s historic buildings happens to be the oldest structure in the community.  While the Green Tree Tavern has played numerous roles in the small Missouri town, it now serves as a reminder of the complex history of this unique European settlement.

The Green Tree Tavern in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, is a rare surviving example of French Colonial architecture known as poteaux sur sole (post on sill). Its unusual construction featured walls made of hand-hewn white oak logs arranged vertically rather than the more traditional horizontal log structure used elsewhere.  Recent studies of the building’s timbers confirmed a construction date of 1790, making it the oldest home in the town and possibly the oldest home west of the Mississippi.

Green Tree Tavern c. 1934

The tavern has filled many different roles for many different people.  It was originally built as a home for French Canadian Nicolas Janis and his family.  When they migrated to the area, they brought with them at least 10 enslaved people, many of whose ownership transferred to the original owners’ descendants. 

When Nicolas’ son, Francois, inherited the property, he opened it as an inn.  The tavern offered lodging, entertainment, socializing, and news to the many travelers pouring into the new Louisiana Purchase territory. Guests could enjoy food and drink in the public room, then sleep in rooms heated by an unusual triangular fireplace.  In later years the building served as a tobacco store and as the first Masonic Lodge in Missouri.

Interior view of Green Tree Tavern showing the triangular fireplace

The grounds of Green Tree Tavern are open year-round.  National Park Service rangers offer free interior tours daily, but registration is required either in person at the park’s Welcome Center (66 Main Street) or by phone at (573) 880-7189.

Meet the New Leader at Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park has a new superintendent.  Jeremy Sweat, a 15-year veteran of the National Park Service, took over the job late last year.  He oversees operations not only for the Gateway Arch but also for Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

Sweat has a background in resource management and policy at the park, regional and national levels, and has experience working with non-profit partners, with other agencies, and with local communities.  JNPA is excited to be working with him.

We recently caught up with Jeremy Sweat to learn a little more about him.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service?   

My first experience working in a national park was as an undergrad archeological field school student at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2004. The field school was a partnership between the University of Tennessee and the NPS, so we got to live and work in the park for the summer. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the Smokies in 2005 as a graduate teaching assistant to supervise the field school. That winter the park archeologist encouraged me to apply for a seasonal position as an archeological technician and I was hired in the summer of 2006 to conduct backcountry archeological surveys. After that first season, I fell in love with the mission and the people, and never left the NPS.

Credit: Debbie Franke

What is particularly special about Gateway Arch National Park, or why should someone visit? 

Aside from the incredible local and regional pride that the park inspires, one of my favorite things about Gateway Arch National Park is how relevant the park’s story is to America today. The Arch helps to tell the story of the European American settlement of the west, which for some people meant new opportunities and greater freedom, while for other people, it meant the loss of rights, lands, and freedom. The Old Courthouse is a place where people fought for racial equality, women’s rights, and voting rights during the 19th century. Telling these complicated, challenging stories gives our visitors the opportunity to connect that history with many of the challenges and conversations that are still happening in America today.  

What’s your favorite part of the job, or what do you hope to accomplish at Gateway Arch National Park?  

My favorite part of the job is seeing people enjoy the park. Each time I look out my window and see families enjoying the Arch grounds, or when I walk through the museum and see children learning about history, it reminds me why I joined the NPS.

What kinds of careers are available in the Park Service?

Honestly, it would be easier to make a list of what careers are not available in the NPS. If you look at the 423 sites that make up the national park system, there are opportunities for nearly every kind of skill and profession. Everyone knows that we hire park rangers, but we also have jobs for scientists, plumbers, law enforcement officers, engineers, carpenters, lifeguards, boat captains, arborists, livestock supervisors, scuba divers, veterinarians, accountants, and more. I encourage anyone who is interested in working for the NPS to learn more about how their skills might be needed in a park or office around the country. 

What’s your favorite activity to do at the park?

I moved here in the middle of winter, so now that it is getting warmer, I enjoy just being out in the park on sunny days. It’s nice to bike through the park on my way home from work and see so many people from the local community, and from around the country and world, here enjoying this place.

The park’s best kept secret is…?

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a well-kept secret, would it? 

How Many National Park Sites Have YOU Visited?

The National Park Service system currently includes 423 sites throughout the United States and its territories.  These range from national monuments and battlefields to national historic sites and recreation areas to national rivers and seashores. 

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t visited the majority of these places (most of us haven’t!). But luckily, National Park Week is just around the corner – a perfect time to add to your NPS “life list.”

National Park Week is an annual celebration jointly hosted by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to encourage everyone to discover our nation’s diverse historic, natural, and cultural treasures.  This year, the week runs from April 16 through 24.  Parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events, and digital experiences, including National Junior Ranger Day for kids on Saturday April 23.  You can find out more about programs and themes you might be interested in by going here.  

Another bonus for park visitors during National Park Week – entrance fees are waived at all parks on Saturday April 16.  (Other 2022 free fee days can be found here).  Luckily, there are never entry fees at JNPA’s partner parks but each of them would be glad to see you in April, or any time!

If you’re planning to visit any of the 63 parks that have “national park” in their name, you’ll want a copy of National Geographic’s national park guide as well as the Passport to Your National Parks, which not only contains park information but allows you to collect the passport stamps from every park you visit.