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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Townspeople dressed as Colonial figures
Townspeople portray figures from the Colonial period Photo courtesy Ste. Genevieve Herald

Jour de Fête, St. Genevieve

Ste. Genevieve, the oldest town on the west bank of the Mississippi, has created a unique tradition that blends it past, present, and future. This riverside community about 60 miles south of St. Louis, founded in the 1700s by French settlers, each August brings together its rich Gallic heritage and contemporary community interests in a spectacular two-day celebration, the Jour de Fête. The festival was created in the 1960s, when the county-seat agricultural community -- like so many others in the Midwest -- was trying to find ways to revitalize its decaying downtown area. Boasting the largest collection of French Colonial period structures on the North America continent--more than 100 structures on the National Registry of Historic Places dot the streets--Ste. Genevieve is a natural tourist attraction. Why not capitalize on its historic past with a festival that brought together artists, craftsmen, and entertainers to showcase local history?

Ste. Genevieve had a reputation as a town that nurtured artists: Audubon, foremost naturalist and artist began his career there, and in the 1930s it was the center of an artists' colony. Today the festival attracts 700 artists, and special exhibitions by local and out-of-town artists always have been an important element of the festival. Many old French customs had been kept alive by local residents, and making them part of the event was a natural for the descendants of the founders who still delight in dressing in colonial costumes and recreating the past. Over the years, the event has revived the centuries-old French tradition of the King's Ball, provided drills and reenactments by French militiamen, and offered demonstrations of everyday colonial life. Since its inception in 1966, the event has been completely planned and implemented by volunteers. The county's service and civic organizations raise money during the Jour de Fête to provide scholarships for local students and finance a wide variety of civic endeavors.

Project documentation includes a five-page narrative, ten 8 x 10 photographs (9 black-and-white, 1 color).

Originally submitted by: Richard A. Gephardt, Representative (3rd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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