Open Letter to Sainte Genevieve

This letter is not an indictment of any of the owners of the properties mentioned in this letter, or of the Landmarks Commission. Rather, this is an observation by the signers of this letter. It is meant to provoke some thought and discussion, as the people involved might not realize how this whole situation appears to those looking in from the outside. There seem to be some undercurrents at play here, as well as some egos that should perhaps be checked at the door.

We cannot help but wonder what Mr. Conley's motivations are in regards to his rather outspoken remarks in regard to the 1st Presbyterian Church of Sainte Genevieve and the O’Neille house. Demolished, the empty lot would not accommodate the members of the church. Currently, there are about 65 members of Presbyterian church, with about 50 in regular attendance of Sunday services. A brief look at Google maps would tell anyone with spatial abilities that no more than 12 parking spaces could be obtained from demolishing the O'Neille house. To insist that this is the church's intent is rather disingenuous, to say the least.

It also has not escaped our attention that perhaps Mr. Conley is angling to take the O’Neille house off the church's hands and restore it himself, at a profit, now that his restoration of the Valle house is nearing completion. Upon rereading the Herald article concerning the Landmarks Commission, we are struck by Mr. Conley's astoundingly condescending remarks about certain board members.

“We just need to clean house and get a new board,” Conley said, saying the old horses couldn’t be taught new tricks. “We need new people.”

If Mr. Conley's accusations were leveled at an individual owner of any of the properties listed, there would be a cry of outrage from some of the people of Sainte Genevieve. One can only wonder that Mr. Conley has chosen the O’Neille house to avoid unpleasantness? Perhaps it should be mentioned that the church is comprised of citizens of Sainte Genevieve, it is not some faceless entity. One also has to wonder why Mr. Conley did not choose to save the O’Neille house when he sat on the Landmarks Commission previously.

However, it's troubling to watch the "new-improved" Landmarks Commission harass and threaten the privacy of the Presbyterian Church. What is the jurisdiction of Landmarks regarding the interior of any historic building? It's alarming to hear comments from Commissioners who say "we need access to the building's interior so the fines can begin." Clearly this is a witch hunt since it's been stated there are no code violations on the outside. Are private citizens supposed to feel comfortable with the thought of Big Government-like techniques to oversee historic properties? Regardless of Mr. Luttrell's comments about this not being "private citizens" because it's a church, it seems more egregious that they are targeting a religious affiliation. Would this happen if the Ste. Genevieve Catholic church was the owner? Maybe it is time for a change of some of the members of the Commission. (See: http://youtu.be/nYF1J7_7jsM?t=1h7m49s)

While we are here, we must also mention that it appears no real thought or research is going into the attacking of the Presbyterian Church. If there were, one would find that the O'Neille house is not only younger than Mr. Conley and Mr. Luttrell continue to state, it is also not quite the "very significant" building to our history as Mr. Luttrell stated repeatedly during various Commission meetings. On the contrary, it seems no one really knows anything about this building. It is not the building it once was, having changed hands and already undergone several disasters and "restorations," anyone who takes a look at the old newspaper articles on microfilm in the library can see that the building has also changed architectural styles at least twice. For the church to restore this building as it should be, a lot of research is going to need to be done to find out what it initially looked like. These things will take time and no amount of insisting that things be done "right now" is going to expedite that process.

As Lorraine Stange has said in the wonderful book "Sainte Genevieve, A Leisurely Stroll Through History," by Bill and Patti Naeger and Mark L. Evans: "People always tell me Ste. Genevieve could be another Williamsburg (VA). I always say 'Why would we want to be? What we have here is real.'" Which leads us, the writers of this letter to ask, why are these other buildings listed below not even being looked at by Mr. Conley? Some of these buildings have not been occupied since the Flood of '73, surely this is demolition by neglect? If it is not, we would certainly like to know exactly what the definition of neglect is. Each one of them is a gem, and to lose any of them would lessen the charm, history and beauty of the fabric of Sainte Genevieve. The Commission can handle only "one house at a time"? No, they must all be treated the same. Every house in the historic district is of the same importance, none more valuable than another. Thankfully, at least some of the members of the Commission seem to understand this fact, as well as the fact that the O'Neille house is still private property.

(Photos removed - this was once a list of 17 derelict properties in Ste. Genevieve, including one owned by a board member.)

Each of us that has had a hand in writing this letter love Sainte Genevieve, it is a wonderfully unique place to have grown up, raise a family, have a business, and to come back to visit.

Gretchen Wolf-Yahnig; Silver Springs, FL
Valerie Holifield; Ste. Genevieve, MO

Post Script

We were ready to send this letter off when another letter to the Editor in STL Today caught our attention: (link now dead and removed)

Mr. Conley kindly confirmed our suspicions as to his intentions towards the O'Neille house, and we would like to thank him for that. It seems that Mr. Conley has it all worked out, the Presbyterian Church donates the house, the Colonial Dames foot the bill, and Mr. Conley gets to ride in and save the day.

Never mind the fact that the Presbyterian Church needs the extra space that O'Neille house would have provided for offices, etc., and has been the one footing the bill thus far. That's just not that important in the grand scheme of things, is it? It's just too bad that Mr. Conley could not have chosen one of the buildings listed above to save.

Links: Landmarks Commission Meeting, June 18, 2012 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYF1J7_7jsM
Landmarks Commission Meeting, May 21, 2012 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBF6QpAb-00

This article is my 232nd oldest. It is 1121 words long, and it’s got 10 comments for now.