For a second year I’ve had the pleasure of guiding the 3rd Grade students from The Community School in Ladue on a tour of Colonial St. Louis. They were vivacious, attentive and very knowledgable which is not surprising since one of their teachers, Marty Hoessle, is the author of the only early St. Louis history book in decades geared specifically to young readers.
UNDER THREE FLAGS explores St. Louis history from the Ice Age to the Louisiana Purchase in a detailed, dramatic and highly personal way, immersing young readers in the past and inviting them to imagine themselves back in different eras, among different peoples. Judging from the third graders’ comprehension and awareness it is a very effective method.
One of the greatest pleasures in teaching lies in taking students places they’ve never been before – whether it’s into the hypnotic meter of a great poem, the landscape of a medieval painting or as was the case yesterday – Colonial St. Louis. What an amazing and anomalous place Colonial St. Louis was! How little of it remains for us to explore.
The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park has preserved important aspects of this period in a very fine, continuing exhibit titled “Seeking St. Louis.” There you can see clothing worn by members of the Chouteau family, hear French spoken as it was in 1764, enter a recreated section of Jeanette Fourchet’s home on Rue D’Eglise and get a sense of narrow streets where merchants did business out of their own homes.
Thanks to the National Park Service, inside the Old Courthouse you can examine a scale model of the poteaux-en-terre house prevalent in La Poste de Saint Louis, dioramas of Fort San Carlos and of Main Street on March 9th and 10th in 1804, when three separate flags flew over Saint Louis – the last of these the Stars and Stripes of the United States of America which have flown here ever since – and the last vestiges of Manuel Lisa’s fur warehouse, the last colonial building to fall on the riverfront.
A Spanish flag was flying over St. Louis when Captain Amos Stoddard and Meriwether Lewis arrived to ceremoniously accept the Upper Louisiana Territory for President Thomas Jefferson from Spanish authorities. For sentimental reasons, after the flag of Spain came down, the flag of France was raised and permitted to fly for twenty-four hours; then replaced by the American flag.
It was intriguing for me to construct a tour based upon UNDER THREE FLAGS at Marty Hoessle’s request. My history tours are site-oriented to existing landmarks which meant pulling major ideas from her book, placing them within the context of the present city and taking the children – to sit where La Place/Place D’Armes lay, to walk up the Arch staircase where the original Rue de La Place/Market Street ran, to stand where the original fur trading post stood, to point out the location of Jeanette Fourchet’s home on Rue D’Eglise/Church Street and to show the students where Sacagawea witnessed the baptism of her little son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau in the second poteaux-en-terre church named for St. Louis of France. After crossing Rue des Granges/the Street of Barns we visited the sites of Fort San Carlos and Ottawa Chief Pontiac’s grave then continued on to the Old Courthouse. Marty Hoessle ends her downtown Colonial St. Louis Tour with a class photo at the statue of Pierre Laclede Liguest beside City Hall. What could be more perfect?
UNDER THREE FLAGS, beautifully written by Maureen Hoessle and designed and illustrated by Kim Mulkey Young, is published by Virginia Publishing of St. Louis. It can be found in the gift shop of the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park and ordered from stl-books.com among other sources. Third and fourth grade teachers who do not already have a curriculum developed for early St. Louis history can find practically everything they need laid out within the pages of this excellent book. No St. Louis area child should miss it.
© 2010 Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh