During a weekend stay in Farmington, Missouri, my mother and I quickly learned that we ran out of weekend before we ran out of things to see and do!
Last weekend my mother and I took a weekend road trip to explore Ste. Genevieve and Castor River Shut-Ins. My love of exploring historic areas and hunting down gems that others may overlook comes from my mother, who in turn received the trait from her mother. I fondly remember exploring Western Europe with the two of them, and other family members, before I was ten. Having Mom in the passenger seat for a trip always makes it extra special and memorable.
FARMINGTON & STE. GENEVIEVE
We made the Quality Inn at Farmington, Missouri our base camp for our short stay. The hotel was in a quiet part of town but still very near restaurants and more attractions than we had time to visit. The room itself had recently been remodeled in a modern style and was staffed by some of the friendliest people that I had came across in some time. Shortly after our arrival we had dinner at The Pasta House Co. I normally shy away from multi-location chains. Our dining choice was based purely on nostalgia and memories of Christmas shopping trips to Battlefield Mall in Springfield, Missouri when I was a kid, and a lifelong love of carbohydrates. Pasta House Co. is a St Louis tradition that began in 1974. They now have sixteen locations although the one in Springfield is closed. They also have a pretty darn good meatball.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we headed east on Missouri Highway 32 to Ste. Genevieve. The autumn scenery was beautiful and we passed nearby Hawn State Park, Hickory Canyons Natural Area, Weingarten (home to German prisoners of war during World War II) and grand country homes, some abandoned and decaying, and others lovingly maintained and lived in. They all had their place in the landscape- and several had me looking for a place to pull over to take pictures. We followed an old railroad line for a portion of the trip. On my GPS road names such as Copper Mine and Lime Kiln begged me to ditch our itinerary, but Ste. Genevieve and her treasures won out.
When we arrived signage led us directly to the Welcome Center. Welcome (sometimes Visitors) Centers are always a great place to start exploring an area that isn’t familiar. I always make it point to ask about things that the locals love that may not be something a casual tourist would take the time to visit. Ste. Genevieve’s Welcome Center did not disappoint. I followed fifteen or so Cookie Crumb Trail participants through the door and purchased two passports for the historic homes tour. While there I learned that while the town itself is very walk able, the Center keeps a wheelchair on hand that can be loaned out for folks as needed. That thoughtful gesture really impressed me. Our passports included tours of Bolduc House Museum, Felix Valle House State Historic Site, Jacques Guibourd House, and the Ste. Genevieve Museum.
BULDOC HOUSE MUSEUM
We started our passport tour at the 1820 Linden House Museum where we met our guide, Sandy. Sandy led us across the street to the Buldoc House Museum, a National Historic Landmark, which has been owned and operated since 1949 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames. Their brochure refers to “New France, the OTHER Colonial America” and highlights the society’s work in archaeology, architecture, artifacts, art, genealogy, and living history. Sandy introduced us to the area history by explaining although Ste. Genevieve was founded circa 1735 and is the oldest permanent settlement in Missouri, the town was first located two miles south and was relocated to its present site because of flooding.
Built by Louis Bolduc in 1792 this home is vertical log “poteaux-en-terre” architecture. There are only five homes of this construction type left in the United States, and three of them are in Ste. Genevieve. Sandy pointed out the bousillage, a mixture of mud, straw, and animal hair, that is the mortar between the logs. She also did an excellent job of “introducing” our group to Louis Buldoc and his family during our tour. She explained he had lived in Quebec, and not wanting to live under British rule after the French-Indian War, he arrived in a canoe at Ste. Genevieve. During his arduous journey his wife and child perished. After settling in the community he became a successful commodities merchant and trader. Before moving to the present town site he lost another wife and child. He married his third wife, Marie and built this home for her.
The first room built was the salon, or “keeping room”. This room was where the majority of the family’s social activities took place, even after the second room was built in 1793. Today the salon holds three especially interesting items- an original iron chandelier that can be lowered or raised from the ceiling, a wardrobe type piece of furniture that still bears the marks of high tide after a long ago flood, and an ornate wood piece that was hand carved, possibly by African slaves, that was used to store the weekly bread supply. Buldoc would have conducted his business from the wide hall-like area that separated the multi-generational bedroom and salon. Although he could not read or write, Buldoc successfully sold bulk commodities including indigo, salt mined from nearby Saline Creek, and iron ore. He may have stored his gold and valuables in a cellar located below his desk. After Louis’ death, his widow, Marie, according to French law, received half of his estate. After a nephew of Louis moved into the home Marie had an addition built in the early 1800’s- Marie’s Kitchen. In my opinion, Marie’s Kitchen may have been the very first “she shed”. The room was very modern and forward thinking for the time and filled with inventive gadgets. As Sandy explained, Marie lived next to America’s very first mall- the Mississippi River. Goods of all types were transported, and sold, up and down the river.
We also toured the garden area which served as a firebreak and would have been planted with vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Next door, at the 1820 Bolduc-LeMeilleur House we self-toured exhibits that told the story of slavery in the area. One display listed the names of both slave buyers and slave sellers. Another told the heartbreaking story of the sale of Sam and his family at New Bourbon. Beside the portrait of John Smith T. (whom we “met” in Potosi in October) was a mention of his famous gunsmith slave Dave. The subject matter is admittedly uncomfortable, but I was impressed to see it. Much of Missouri’s African-American history has, sadly, been erased.
FELIX VALLÉ HOUSE STATE HISTORIC SITE
After a light lunch at Stella and Me Cafe we went to Merchant and Second Street to the site of the 1818 Felix Vallé House State Historic Site. This home, owned by Felix and Odile Pratte Vallé, a “premier colonial family”, was, architecturally, very different from the Bolduc House. This home was constructed from limestone and was designed in a Federal style. A similarity, however, was that both homes also housed storefronts in addition to living quarters. This home included the Menard and Vallé trading firm. This room has been restored to include items that would have been traded for in that time period. Some of the items were reproductions, but one item that was authentic had an intriguing story attached. Taylor, our guide, explained that the iron ingot had been recovered during a street construction project. It had, presumably, fallen from a wagon and sunk beneath the surface. Although it had been stamped with a maker’s mark the staff has been unable to definitively learn which iron works it may have come from. In the parlor hung handsome portraits of the former owners. Another unique piece, a lithopane, was in the parlor window. Taylor explained that this art form dated to the 1820’s and that surviving pieces are rare. He explained how the image is produced, using molded porcelain, and commented that if the light source is removed from the image that the scene itself would disappear and look opaque. We toured the upstairs bedrooms and then walked around the garden area. Taylor pointed out a unique structure in the back yard, a slave house. Although not open to the public at this time, it is one of the few slave dwellings remaining in Missouri.
JACQUES GUIBOURD HOUSE
A hop, skip, and a jump found us at the Jacques Guibord House where we were greeted by our guide Tish. After inquiring as to which places we had already visited Tish tailored our introduction to this home by focusing on the story of Jacques Jean Rene Guibourd de Luzinais, the original owner. Guibourd was born in France in 1755. Wanting to make a name for himself he traveled to Saint Domingue where he worked for a wealthy plantation owner. During a slave uprising there his loyal slave, Moros, smuggled him out of the country in a wine barrel. He and Moros went back in France, arriving during the Reign of Terror. Deciding to forego the chaos and destruction they sailed to Philadelphia in America. In the late 1790’s he arrived in Ste. Genevieve, penniless. Luck smiled on him here where he became friends with Jean-Baptiste Barbeau, the father of his future wife, Ursula. He also became familiar with the Commandant of Ste. Genevieve, Jean-Baptiste Vallé who granted him the entire block of land that his home sits on in 1799. Guibord opened a store across the street from where his home stands and married Ursula in 1800. The home was constructed in 1806 and is poteaux-sur-sole (post on a sill) vertical log construction. Guibourd also owned a tannery and a lead mine. The home was later purchased by Jules Felix and Anna Valle, world travelers and antique collectors. The Foundation for the Restoration of Ste. Genevieve inherited the home when Anna passed in 1971. One fascinating feature of the home is the original Norman truss system that can be viewed from the attic. While viewing this engineering marvel Tish reminded me that this home had survived the devastating New Madrid earthquakes of 1812. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.
CASTOR RIVER SHUT-INS
As the sun began to set, Mom and I decided that rather than to rush to see the Ste. Genevieve Museum (included in our passport and valid until the end of the calendar year), and the Memorial Cemetery that we would rather return in Spring for a leisurely amble of this historic and charming river town. We also promised each other that we would take the ferry across the Mississippi when we return. We made our way back to Farmington for a take out dinner at the hotel and a good night’s rest.
The next morning we bypassed Highway 67 in favor of the old Fredericktown road to the county seat of Madison County. The scenic countryside was beautiful, dotted with historic barns, farmhouses, and century farms. When we arrived in Fredericktown we found our way to the courthouse which dominates the city square and almost forms a roundabout in the downtown. The courthouse was designed by architects Theodore Link and Louis Miller and constructed in 1900. It is included on the National Register of Historic Places. A side trip to pay our respects at a family members grave led us to the historic markers at the site of the Battle of Fredericktown, waged between the North and the South in 1861. Only after arriving home did I learn about the museum dedicated to the battle.
Next we turned the wheel towards Castor River Shut-Ins (Amidon Memorial Conservation Area), a place that had been on my mom’s wish list for some time. She also really wanted to see the headwaters of the Castor River, which winds through her hometown of Zalma. I had had zero luck in finding that location before we left so we had to bypass it this trip. If you can point out the spot where the Castor River begins and connect me with the landowner, please do! After arriving at the conservation area parking lot a short walk along the path led us to the only pink granite shut-ins in Missouri. This site is spectacular and is something that everyone in Missouri should see with their own eyes. If I tried to describe the majesty of this location, I would fail. Even my pictures fail to show the rugged beauty of this geologic wonder. This is one that definitely falls in the “Show Me” category. This conservation area also includes two cemeteries and two old grist mill sites- all of which I somehow missed that day. I have all four of them on my list to see when I return.
THE ROAD HOME
We followed Highway 72 north to Rolla and I kicked myself repeatedly along the way for all the things that I wanted to see but had not allowed enough time for. I somehow missed the turn that would have led us to BayleeJo’s famous cherry smoked BBQ. Instead we kept driving and passed through scenery where geology was the star. Lake Killarney, man made in the early 1900’s, was postcard material. Arcadia, Ironton, Ketcherside Mountain , Tip Top, and the Reynolds County Courthouse in Centerville were added to my return list.
Over carne asada tacos and burritos in Salem, Mom and I discussed all the things that there are to see and do in the Farmington/Arcadia Valley region. We agreed that a family could easily fill a week or more with activities. The area is a great fit for homeschoolers, field trips, wedding parties, outdoor enthusiasts, geology geeks (geology rocks!), history buffs, and just about everyone under the sun. We learned that Amtrak now has a scheduled stop in Arcadia and we began working a train trip into our plans for Spring, 2017.