MISSOURI – As another birthday comes around for St. Louis, it may come as a surprise that the now 259-year-old city is not actually the oldest-standing in Missouri.
There are some similarities to St. Louis and Missouri’s oldest city. Both sit along the Mississippi River and use some variation of the same word in its name.
According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, Ste. Genevieve is recognized as the first organized European settlement in the state, thus giving it a less official title as the oldest city, standing in the land that later became classified as Missouri.
Ste. Genevieve was established as a settlement in 1750, though historians suggest that French-Canadian explorers founded the area as early as 1735.
According to the National Park Service, the earliest settlers of Ste. Genevieve were drawn by a rich agricultural opportunity, specifically a land known as Le Grand Champ. The layout allowed settlers to utilize the river for multiple purposes, but also provided ample space away from the water to graze livestock, cut wood and grow crops through strip farming. Fresh soil was another motive, as it proved more scarce to cultivate in places east of the Mississippi River.
The settlement of Ste. Genevieve came after improved relations with Native American tribes, according to Carl J. Ekberg’s book Colonial Ste. Genevieve and a report from Genealogy Trails. Osage and Peoria Indians inhabited the area upon French exploration, though historians believe it was largely abandoned in the 1500s as environmental resources became more exhausted.
When founded, Ste. Genevieve aligned with farming processes that the French deemed successful from the Middle Ages. Though in 1785, decades after it became the first settlement in Missouri, a massive flood caused the town to slightly relocate. In present day, Ste. Genevieve stands nearly three miles to the northwest of its original site.
According to The State Historical Society of Missouri, the Show-Me State’s oldest city got its name Sainte Genevieve, patroness of Paris. “She is reputed to have saved the city from Attila by her prayers in 451,” said the Historical Society. “Possibly the name was chosen because the settlement was made on or near her feast day; more probably it was selected in honor of the capital city of the native land of the original settlers.”
The city of Ste. Genevieve officially became part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and part of Missouri when it earned statehood in 1821. In present day, Ste. Genevieve is home to nearly 5,000 people within its city limits. It’s also the focal city of Ste. Genevieve County, about an hour south of St. Louis.