Ste. Genevieve, a small town on the Mississippi River about an hour south of St. Louis, still has a bit of the flavor of the early 1700s when it was first settled.
Several buildings from those French colonial times still stand in the town, helping it earn a National Historical Park designation in 2018.
Now, officials have taken another significant step by introducing the park’s first superintendent. Chris Collins has spent 16 years with the National Park Service and brings a degree in French language and literature to an area of Missouri with deep French roots.
“What an interesting nexus of where I want to go with my career and what I thought I would pursue in the past,” Collins said. “The lure of both of those worlds drew me to the position.”
He sees the architecture around Ste. Genevieve as one of the area’s most striking assets, especially a style of construction called poteaux-en-terre, which is known in English as post in ground.
Posts were buried vertically into the earth to be the main support of a structure. Cedar was used because it wouldn’t rot. St. Louis had similar structures, but the last was torn down in 1875, Collins said.
“Only five of these particular houses survive in North America to this day, and three of the five exist in Ste. Genevieve.”
He credits a location off the beaten path as one reason why those structures in Ste. Genevieve have stood the test of time. The houses have lasted despite the flooding that hits the area.
“Their houses have survived, although I know some have had basements flooded,” Collins said.
One of the surviving structures is the Beauvais-Amoureux House, which was donated to the National Park Service by the state of Missouri. Acquiring more colonial-era homes is key to becoming a formally established unit of the National Park System.
That effort is underway.
“We’re currently in the process of closing on another house, “ Collins said.
The Colonial Dames of America St. Louis chapter recently donated the Jean Baptiste Valle house, a deal Collins expects will be completed soon. The organization also has talked to the park service about five other properties that could be donated.
Collins said that many structures should be enough to be established as a full unit of the National Park System, but there isn’t a magic number.
“It’s really up to the secretary of the interior to decide,” Collins said. “We’re thinking somewhere between three and five,” he added, while saying there is no firm timeline to finalize those acquisitions.
Collins came to Missouri after spending a few years at Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan, southeast of Chicago.
That experience could be beneficial to the effort to establish Ste. Genevieve as a park system unit, as Collins was at Indiana Dunes when it was designated as a full national park unit about a year ago.
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