Background — The Museum Campus of The Centre for French Colonial Life
The origins of this museum campus dates back to 1959, when the Bolduc House Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri was opened to the public as a vehicle for preserving the region's French colonial heritage and creating greater awareness of that unique story.
The House was saved, restored and operated by The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Missouri, one of forty-four Corporate Societies within the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. The NSCDA-MO was organized in October 10, 1896, and remains committed to its mission to collect and preserve manuscripts and artifacts associated with our national heritage, to preserve and restore buildings connected with the early history of our country, to support research and the dissemination of information concerning our shared past, and to foster a popular interest in our Colonial history.
Over time, other buildings were acquired to expand the range of stories being told through the Bolduc House Museum. In late 2016, the NSCDA-MO established a separate nonprofit organization, French Colonial America, to manage and operate the growing campus of historic structures. French Colonial America has been granted status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization by the Internal Revenue Service, so it can raise funds for the campus and its programs, and all donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law.
This museum campus now includes five buildings dating from the late 1780s through the 1820s, which are being reinterpreted to illustrate the emergence over time of a resilient and distinctive French Creole culture in the region. We are still working to better understand this culture, which incorporated and adapted elements of French, Native American, African, Colonial Caribbean, Colonial Canadian, and Colonial English and German lifeways and practices, while still maintaining its essential identity as French, including the use of a French-based dialect and adherence to the Roman Catholic faith, and NSCDA-MO continues to support that pursuit of better understanding and interpretation through underwriting and encouragement of ongoing archival research and archaeology projects about the region's early history.
The NSCDA-MO museum properties campus at Ste. Genevieve is open year-round to the public, offering guided tours, school tours and homeschool programs, living history events and demonstrations, special exhibits, and lectures. These efforts are supported through donations, grants, and earned income.
The campus is currently operated by a staff of four full-time museum professionals and four part-time education and general services staff, and two archival volunteers. Volunteers – including youth volunteers from homeschool backgrounds – assist with school programs, tours, demonstrations, living history activities, gardening, and maintenance.
The audience for the museum campus includes the members of the general public with an interest in history, historic material culture and lifeways, and traditional crafts; local and regional residents; national and international heritage tourists; homeschool students and private and public school groups; scholars and researchers, and individuals descended from early French settlers in the region.
A sixth building was added to the campus in 2018: The Centre for French Colonial Life orientation and exhibits facility. Located in a former bank building adjoining the campus , the Centre was developed as an exhibits and education center with orientation, gift shop, offices, and climate-controlled collections storage functions. Temporary galleries will be used to present temporary interpretive exhibits, starting with a presentation of recent archaeological finds from various French Creole sites in the region.
The NSCDA-MO and French Colonial America organizations, and the professional staff and contractors working at the museum campus have a network of relationships with scholars and other museum professionals not just within the Missouri/Illinois region, but also nation-wide, as well as Canada and France. Utilizing these relationships as the foundation for new interpretive exhibits, special programs and collaborative projects, our long-term goal is to eventually develop and refine the purpose and subject matter of the museum campus in broader ways, as the Centre for French Colonial Life at Ste. Genevieve.
Photo courtesy of Susan Hurt