Explore the Counties of
French Colonial Country
The region along the Mississippi River south of St. Louis is French Colonial Country. The region was originally inhabited by a number of Native American cultures as far back as 11,000 B.C. was settled by the French in the early 1700s. The counties included are Sainte Genevieve and Jefferson in Missouri and Saint Clair, Monroe, and Randolph in Illinois.
Ste. Genevieve was the first permanent European settlement in what now is the state of Missouri being established as a trading outpost and was later settled by lead miners, farmers and fur traders. Before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the dominant architecture was French Creole with wooden homes built in several styles. Ste. Genevieve holds the distinction of the having the largest concentration of French Colonial buildings in the country. Ste. Genevieve’s newest trade is tourism and the town is the home to a large variety of Bed & Breakfasts, antique and specialty shops Hawn State Park and Pickle Springs Natural Area are located west of town and provide its visitors with unique outdoor experiences. There are special events held throughout the year and the historic downtown area is the focus of many of these events. The French Heritage Festival in June and Jour de Fête, held every August with French colonial activities and over 600 participating artisans and the French are just two of the events held in Ste. Genevieve that appeal to visitors from all over.
Located just south of St. Louis, Jefferson County is roughly bounded by its three largest rivers: the Mississippi River on the east, the Meramec River on the north, and the Big River in the west. The presence of the three significant waterways, the natural resources of the area, and the temperate climate have made Jefferson County an attractive place to call home for at least 13,000 years. Evidence of the Clovis culture (11,500 B.C. to 9,500 B.C.) has been found at the Kimmswick Bone Bed at the Mastodon State Historic Site. The rise in popularity of the automobile had a profound effect on Jefferson County. Cities along the major highway corridors experienced suburban style growth. Cities such as Kimmswick, which relied on rail service and riverboats, began to decline. In the 1970s an effort was begun to revitalize Kimmswick. Today Kimmswick has many restored 19th century buildings and is a popular destination for visitors along the Great River Road.
European settlement of St. Clair County dates back to 1699, with the founding of the village of Cahokia, the same year as the founding of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, by French-Canadian missionaries. On April 27, 1790, before 500 people assembled on the parade grounds of Cahokia, a proclamation issued by Governor Arthur St. Clair was read that would lay out the county that was to be the first in Illinois and would bear his name. The original boundaries of St. Clair County included about two-thirds of the State of Illinois. Visitors to the Great River Road region of St. Clair County will find a variety of historical and entertaining things to do. A trip to the Colonial Cahokia State Historic Sites complex will reveal how the county’s early French roots. St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belleville is the largest cathedral in the state of Illinois and is modeled after the Cathedral of Exeter, England and its English Gothic style of architecture. Also in Belleville is the recently opened William & Florence Schmidt Art Center. greatriverroad.com invites to visit this interesting and vibrant region.
Monroe County, Illinois
Monroe County is just a 30-minute drive south of downtown St. Louis. The French had settled in the Middle Mississippi Valley for nearly 80 years before American pioneers began settling in the region. The French population of early Illinois was concentrated in the neighboring counties of St. Clair and Randolph, but Monroe County was where the settlements of the early Americans were located. The drive along the Great River Road features the rich farmland of the American Bottom, the tree-lined streets with the century-old buildings of its towns, antique and specialty shops, unique restaurants, and a number of historic sites that preserve the strong German and French heritage of the residents.
Randolph County, Illinois
The history of Randolph County begins as far back as 8000 B.C. with Native Americans using the limestone bluff overhangs of the area as shelter. European influence on the area began when Joliet and Marquette passed through the area in 1673. Once the area was claimed by France, French fur traders began immigrating to the area. In 1703 Kaskaskia was the first village to be founded and in 1718 the French authorities established Fort de Chartres. Visitors to the Great River Road region of Randolph County will find a variety of historical and entertaining things to do and experience the early French, British and American influences on the region. Events occur throughout the year at Fort de Chartres including the Annual Rendezvous in early June, one of the largest events of it's type in the Midwest, and the town of Chester holds a popular Popeye celebration in September.