Operations manager Robbie Pratte pointed to an orange line on a utility post outside the landmark Bolduc House Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., that is set to reopen on Tuesday.
The marker, which was above Pratte's waist, was painted last December to indicate how high the floodwater would have been on South Main Street if the Mississippi had topped the levee of this historic river town. Though fears of a record-level crest spurred merchants and homeowners in the historic district to prepare for the worst, the river crested several feet below projections, and the levee held.
Pratte says volunteers spent several days after Christmas helping staff and a moving company remove irreplaceable furniture and artifacts from the lower levels of the museum’s six French Colonial buildings that date to the late 1700s.
“It was a lot of hard work by a lot of people and a lot of long days,’’ Pratte said.
Once the emergency passed, the museum decided to remain closed until March 1, so staff could clean, paint and do maintenance work on the emptied rooms. Pratte says all that moving was worth it.
“We’re certainly glad that there wasn’t a flood, but I think we would do it again in a heartbeat to protect what we have,’’ he said. “Not just this site, but this town’s a treasure.’’
Ste. Genevieve, a city of 4,000 people, is about 60 miles south of St. Louis. It traces its roots to 1735, when French Canadians settled on the Mississippi in what was then part of the Louisiana Territory. (The city of St. Louis was founded about 30 years later.) The settlement is considered to be the first established by European settlers west of the Mississippi. The original town was prone to flooding, and Ste. Genevieve moved inland to its present location in 1785.
Ste. Genevieve made national headlines in 1993 when thousands of volunteers sandbagged around the clock to build an emergency levee to protect the town from the Mississippi that crested that year at 49.7 feet. A new levee and pumping station were completed in 2002.
The museum includes homes of historical significance, plus gardens intended to let visitors see how French colonial residents lived in the late 1700s, in the American territories known as New France.
“French colonial history just doesn’t get taught in schools,’’ says Pratte. “When I was a kid, it largely revolved around the Louisiana Purchase. And our site is what happened before the Louisiana Purchase.’’
The Bolduc House, a National Historic Landmark, was built by merchant Louis Bolduc in 1792. It’s a French-style log cabin house constructed of vertical logs and a cedar shake roof. It was owned by members of the Bolduc family until 1948 when it was purchased by the Missouri branch of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, a nonprofit that operates the museum.
Other homes date to the early 1800s and were built by prominent residents, including commandants of the French settlement.