Colonial Dames Change Direction With Donation To National Park, Will Transfer Several Properties To French Colonial America

The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Missouri (NSCDA-MO) is offering to donate the Jean-Baptiste Valle House to the U.S. Department of the Interior for the establishment of the Sainte Genevieve National Historical Park, but the organization is moving in a different direction with its other properties here.

In a news release dated December 4, NSCDA-MO said it would transfer ownership of four other historic houses — the Louis Bolduc House, the LeMeilleur House, the Beauvais-Linden House and the François Valle II House — and the Centre for French Colonial Life to French Colonial America, a separate non-profit that had been contracted to operate the properties for the Colonial Dames.

NSCDA-MO’s board had in January, following a vote last December, made an offer of all five historic properties via donation and the Centre for French Colonial Life via sale to the U.S. Department of the Interior to help speed the establishment of the national park.

The National Park Service (NPS), a federal agency in the Department of the Interior, earlier this year acquired the 1792 Beauvais-Amoureux House via donation from the state of Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources.

That so far is the only property acquired toward the establishment of the national park, the legislation for which was signed by President Donald J. Trump in March of 2018.

The state has approved offering other properties along St. Mary’s Road and the historic Kern-Delassus House on Highway 61 just south of the city of Ste. Genevieve, but the federal government has not acted on those offers yet.

NPS officials visiting Ste. Genevieve had expressed interest in a downtown presence. The NSCDA-MO properties fit that bill, with the Jean-Baptiste Valle House at the corner of Main and Market, across the street from the LeMeilleur House and the city’s Welcome Center.

The Bolduc House and Linden House also are along Main Street, and the Francois Valle II House on Gabouri Street is on the same block as most of the other NSCDA-MO properties.

The city of Ste. Genevieve also has offered to NPS use of the Welcome Center at Main and Market to hasten establishment of the park, and that may be more important with the NSCDA-MO decision.

“In the last year, NSCDA-MO’s leadership had considered various options as to the future of these properties,” the news release stated. “After consultation and deliberation of the possibilities with their key partners, it was determined this is the best and most practical course of action, and provides a solid future for historic Ste Genevieve.”

NSCDA-MO president Christy James said Saturday that the decision by her organization will allow programming that has been set up by the French Colonial America to continue uninterrupted, which became a concern of the Colonial Dames during the lengthy wait for a reply from the NPS on the offer made in January.

She said during the process since making the offer, the Colonial Dames began to have concerns about the timeline for establishment of the park, the appropriation of funds in the federal budget and the hiring of NPS staff.

NPS last month announced the selection of Chris Collins as the first permanent superintendent of the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

“There were all of these things that we were beginning to realize there was a time element, and it was hard to get a firm commitment to how much time this was going to take and what was going to happen if we turned over the houses,” James said. “One of the things that concerned us was that there would be an interruption in the programming and the services that we provide.”

She said the organization did not want to turn over properties to NPS “knowing the likelihood would be they’d be shut down for a year or two while the park service finished getting itself established.”

She said to take away the programming that French Colonial America has established at its museum and historic houses “would be a shame” and could be detrimental to the city of Ste. Genevieve both in public relations and financially.

“I wouldn’t want to feel that we knowingly, purposefully, allowed something like that to happen,” she said.

“The houses are nothing without the stories being taught and told, and that became a concern to us,” James added. “We thought, if we give them all to the park service, and they’re not ready administratively or financially to move forward with programming, that would be disappointing to us because of what we’ve been building, and really very vigorously in the last five years, but also what it would do the city. If we closed, if everything here shuttered, it would be very disappointing to people who come to Ste. Genevieve to see something about the history of this part of the would.”

See complete story in the December 11 edition of the Herald.

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