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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!