French Colonial Territory
Pick up a brochure at one of the six St. Louis visitor information centers before you embark on a self-guided tour through the Creole Corridor of Missouri and Illinois.
Begin in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Named after the patron saint of Paris, the village was founded in 1735 as the first permanent European settlement in the Louisiana Territory. Stop at the Great River Road Interpretive Center – less than an hour south of St. Louis – for an overview of the town’s French Colonial roots. Or take a tour of historic homes including Maison Guibourd-Valle (1784) and Bolduc House (1770). Stop at nearby Crown Valley Winery, (573) 756-9463, to taste Missouri wines on the 320-acre estate before crossing the old Mississippi River channel to Kaskaskia Island, where the Liberty Bell of the West is preserved.
On the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, visit the archives of the Randolph County Museum in Chester where French Colonial records are kept. High over the river, the remains of Fort Kaskaskia, built during the French and Indian War, highlight a scenic state park. Stop at the Pierre Menard Home State Historic Site in Ellis Grove and drive north through the village of Prairie du Rocher, past the Creole House to the restored Fort de Chartres State Historic Site (1753). Continue north on Route 3 to Cahokia, Illinois, just minutes east of downtown St. Louis, to see the Cahokia Courthouse (1740), Jarrot Mansion (1818) and the vertical log Church of the Holy Family (1799).
How to get there
From St. Louis, take I-55 south to Highway 32 and drive just 55 miles to Ste. Genevieve. A Mississippi River ferry crossing north of Ste. Genevieve transports cars from Missouri to Illinois, or drivers can cross the Chester Bridge at Highway 51 south of St. Mary into Illinois.
Related St. Louis attractions
Back in St. Louis, you can find many spots rich with French tradition. The Old Cathedral (1834) stands at the edge of the Gateway Arch grounds on the site of the city’s first church. Founded in 1764 by French fur traders, St. Louis took its name from King Louis IX of France. See mosaics memorializing the Crusader King’s life in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. City Hall, modeled after Paris’ city hall, and St. Louis Union Station, designed to look like a French fortress, also give visitors an architectural taste of the city’s French heritage.
St. Louis also celebrates French culture with Mardi Gras in February/March and Bastille Day in July while Ste. Genevieve hosts Jour de Fête in August. Fort de Chartres re-creates a Rendezvous – a gathering of fur trappers and Native Americans – in the spring and fall.