Archaeologists Have Turned Up Teeny Tiny Pieces of St. Louis’ French Past

St. Louis was originally a French colonial city, but most remnants of that period have been lost to time, until now

St. Louis
St Louis Doug Kerr

Just a few blocks away from the Gateway Arch, the most visible symbol of St. Louis, archaeologists are digging into the midwestern city’s past. Recently, a team of archaeologists found evidence of a French colonial home under the Poplar Street Bridge. There wasn’t much left of the house, just vertical postholes, and part of a ceramic bowl. But in St. Louis, the find caused a lot of excitement.

St. Louis Public Radio:

Bob Moore, the historian of the Gateway Arch for the National Park Service, sees the significance of what’s been found. He said finding any remnants of St. Louis’ past is exciting.

“I think everybody who’s studied this over the years -- from architectural historians to regular research historians like myself -- have always felt that all the vestiges of colonial St. Louis are completely gone, that the 19th century buildings that had foundations dug deeper and walls built higher and thicker, had totally obliterated anything that might remain from the French colonial period,” he said. “But here, they’ve actually found remnants of this exciting period of time that lasted for 40 years in the early history of St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase.”

While physical remains from that time period are scarce, historical records aren’t. Experts were able to match the house to records from the time period that indicate the house was built in 1769 by a man named Joseph Bouchard. The house was built just five years after the small, fur-trading post of St Louis was founded in 1764. The outpost on the banks of the Mississippi didn’t remain French for very long. It was given to the Spanish as a consolation prize for losing Florida to the British during the French and Indian War, and briefly returned to French control before getting sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. 

The city celebrates its 250th birthday this year. 

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