Ste. Genevieve: 1800’s Part I

From the Louisiana Purchase to the turn-of-the-century

Then continued in Part II.

Return to France, then to America
        We’ve all heard it a million times in
our history classes.  But for repetition’s sake, let’s mention
that in 1800, France regained possession of the Louisiana Territory. 
They had lost it to Spain in 1762/1763.  Napoleon, looking for
some quick cash, then sold the Louisiana Territory to the United
States, in 1803.  Of course, the United States had become a
country only 25 years before.  Now, Ste. Genevieve, full of
French people, belonged to the Americans.  Ste. Genevieve
County officially became a county on October 1, 1812, one of the
five original counties (Cape Girardeau, New Madrid, St. Charles, and
St. Louis Counties are the other four).  Along with a change in
government in 1804, came new settlers from Virginia, Kentucky, and
Europe, including many German immigrants (many came during the

        The Ste. Genevieve District Townships
were, in 1870: Breton, Belleview, St. Michaels, Big River, Ste.
Genevieve, and Cinque Homme.  In 1814, the townships of Saline
and Platin were added.
        In 1800, the population of the Ste.
Genevieve territory was 1163 and in 1804, the population was 1300,
one-third of those being slaves.
        During the early 1800’s, Ste.
Genevieve really began to emerge as a prosperous commerce area. 
Many people often traveled from St. Louis to make business
transactions in Ste. Genevieve.

        Interesting note: In
her early days, the citizens of Ste. Genevieve seem to have been big

"Whenever there is a ball given even by the most rigid of these
there is always one room set apart for gambling.  And never did
I see
people embark with so much spirit and perseverance to win each
money as in this little village.  They spend 30 hours at the
same table

with only claret and coffee, and exclusive of these frequent
they have meetings thrice a week for no other purpose than to play
favorite game… Should the billiard rooms, of which there are
three, be
closed the whole week, you will always see them open and crowded on

Sunday." –
Christian Schultz, early 1800’s4

Ste. Genevieve Schools
        The first school was
organized around 1784 when Madame Charles Peyroux brought the Dames
Religious for the purpose of starting a school.  They did not
stay long, however.
        Ste. Genevieve Academy was formed in
1808: This old Academy, which sits on a beautiful hill
overlooking the town, is a large stone building, and was built in
1808 by the old inhabitants of Ste. Genevieve.  In 1818 it was
taken in charge by Bishop Dubourg, when Man. Butler was employed as
a teacher, afterwards was abandoned for a term, until it was again
brought in a flourishing condition under control of Firmin A. Rozier,
January 1854, and continued until 1862, when the troubles of the
Civil War prevented its continuance.
[Source #5] 
The academy has since been remodeled and is closed to the public. 
[Update: November 8, 2004: the Old Academy is now

for sale
!!  Oh, how I wish I could afford it!]

 Image Image Image

(above: three historic views of the old academy and one current – 2003 – view.)

        In 1837, the Sisters
of Loretto, led by Odile Pratte Valle came to Ste. Genevieve. 
Odile bought the Catherine Bolduc house and brick store on Main
Street in which to open a school.  They stayed there until 1849
when they moved to the Old Joseph Pratte residence, opposite the
church (mortgaging one of their slaves to help finance the

        In 1858, the Sisters of Loretto
withdrew and Father J. M. St. Cyr brought the Sisters of St. Joseph.
        Finally, in 1925, Valle Catholic
School was founded by Rev Charles L. Van Tourenhout ("Father Van"). 
The school is still in operation today.


The Church
        The first church in "New" Ste.
Genevieve, is believed to have been moved from the old town; it was
a log structure and it began to deteriorate rapidly.  Father
Henri Pratte, the first native-born priest came to pastor the Ste.
Genevieve church in October of 1815.  He "built a new

and made the old one into a sanctuary."8 
He also provided for a new roof, flooring, and plastering.  The
church then lasted another 20 years.  Henri died in "an
epidemic" [which?] on September 1, 1822 at the age of 34.


Artist’s rendition of the old church, from a postcard, year
unknown.  Click the image to view it in a larger version.

        The church, though
repaired, was once again deteriorating quickly and by 1831 was also
too small for the growing congregation and community.  The
pastor to fill the place of Father Pratte was Rev Francis Xavier
Dahmen, who arrived on September 29, 1822; he began preparation to
build another church, comprised of stone.
        The erection of the old rock
Catholic church was completed in 1831 under the surveillance of Rd.
X. Dahman, an old soldier and officer in the cavalry service of
Napoleon, the emperor
[of France].  It was consecrated
Nov 22, 1837, by Bishop Rosatti, of St. Louis.  This old rock
church was struck by lightning July 17, 1841; it struck the gable
end and the fluid descended along the roof to the sacristy, then
pierced the wall, the altar, taking away all its gilding, and passed
to the ground floor.  Mr. John Doyle, at the time, was praying
before the altar, and was struck by the lightning and considerably
stunned, yet recovered from the shock.  There is now a large
brick church erected over the site of the old rock church, under the
supervision of Rev. Francis X. Weiss.  The corner of this new
edifice was laid by Rev. Chas. Ziegler, a native of Ste. Genevieve,
now a parish priest of St. Louis.
  [Source #5]

        In 1865, Rev. Francis Xavier Weiss
came to the Ste. Genevieve church, he’d first been at Zell and the
mission in River Aux Vases.  He built a stone building next to
the church, meaning it to be a college.  However, "not being
able to get the Christian Brothers to teach, he abandoned the idea
and moved into the building, tearing down the rectory which was in
bad condition."
8   By 1874, the rock church
building was again getting too small, so the church began to
advertise to enlarge it.  The Ste. Genevieve Fair Play
even reported that people, who were forced to stand in the doorways
because there was no where to sit, were sometimes fainting during
the services!  The construction on the church was begun in
April of 1876 and it was finished and consecrated in 1880, a brick
Victorian Gothic church.  The altar remained in the same place,
expanding on the sides.  The pillars that are now in the church
would have been the edges to the old rock church, left standing for

        A photographer from St. Louis in 1895
reported that the church was 125 feet long and 74 feet wide (the old
rock one being 97 feet long and 40 feet wide), seating 962 persons
and having 450 parish families at that time.  He also reported
that the church cost $25,000…  I assume this means overall?
        Following Rev Weiss was Rev Charles
L. Van Tourenhout who remodeled for yet more room in 1911, including
the hexagonal structure on the altar side and a new altar.  (He
was also the founder of Valle High School in 1925, building a new
rectory and making the former the high school.)


The above photo was taken in the 1930’s-1940’s


The interior of the church, date unknown


Reverend Van Tourenhout in his study, date unknown




The church today

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