History – We All Have It

I’ve been writing history for over 30 years. When I look back at some of my earliest work, I laugh. I’m still proud of it, yet I realize that my own research since then, has taught me a lot. I’ve learned a lot. I love sharing what I learn. Covid-19 has actually helped my creative muse, with less time spent teaching and public speaking, and more time devoted to research and writing. Research being the largest time-eater of all, but essential to good writing I feel. Not the kind of research done on Google either. Not that there is anything wrong with Google, but it can’t be the only research used. Imagine what will  be written 150 years from now, if Google is the only source used to write about today.

Cattle drive down Main Street. Main Street is part of the Boone’s Lick Trail which ends in Howard County at the beginning of the Sante Fe Trail.

Back in the mid-80s I purchased an old historic home supposedly built by a German named Smith/Schmidt. Every old house lover spends hours researching their homes’ history! When investigating a building, the first thing you do is research the deeds, and create a timeline of who owned the property when. However, that is only the beginning! A list of names and dates is all that is. Who were they? What did they do? What happened there?! That is when the professional genealogist in me emerges. For me, that is when the fun begins. Its’ what we call “going down those rabbit holes” and chasing those stories. There are so many sources because we all have history. Throughout our lives we leave behind hundreds of documents and records  that tell our story. When I teach genealogy, my genealogy students get a list of over one hundred resources, like Circuit Court records, probates and wills. Not to mention all the research  that can be done at archives, libraries and in newspapers.

I recently completed extensive research on the 150 historic properties that line St. Charles Main Street, the most famous Main Street of  Missouri. The Historic Main Street Tour link https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/ef8dfd89425c46349ead22cd80213320 will take you back to 1769 when settlement began. These buildings have over 250 years of history! They’ve had a lot of owners too.  Did they inherit it? Did they buy it at a Sheriff’s Sale? And the even tougher questions like where did the builder come from? What did they do? Questions that took a lot of digging! The family histories, the plat maps, the Insurance Maps, the City Directories! Plus, one looks at the stories already written and the research already done! If it were not for the writing and the preservation work of Edna McElhiney Olson I don’t know what would be left of our historic Main Street today.

St. Charles Main Street

Historic Main Street Tour is a digital tour of one of Missouri’s most historic streets. From the site of the City’s founder Louis Blanchette who settled here in 1769 to  early 20th Century homes, these are the stories of Main Street. More than an address and a date, these are the photos and the stories. Businesses and homes, schools, mills and churches, even the river landing for the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804, and the Trolly bridge that opened in 1904 for St. Charles residents to attend the World’s Fair. This is the story of Main Street where history has happened for over 250 years. I hope you enjoy the stories and encourage you to download the site on your phone and visit Main Street. If you can’t do that, then you can walk down Main Street on your desktop. St. Charles is the oldest settlement in Missouri west of the Mississippi River and north of the Missouri River.

St. Charles Main Street photo from the Buse Collection in the Missouri State Historical Society.

My thanks go to the Special Business District Commission who trusted me with this wonderful project.  My thanks to Sharlotte Worthington who is a wealth of information; Penny Pitman, who provided all of the texts and photos she used when she made the plaques that line North Main Street; Holly Haddox whose Preservation Journal was a starting point for much of the research and hundreds of photos; and Justin Watkins did deed research for both Historic St. Charles (North Main Businesses) and the South Main Preservation Society (South Main). Thanks too for all of the business owners that have been part of this, that allowed me to crawl in their attics and basements, and shared the history that they had discovered!

Dorris Keeven-Franke is an award-winning writer, public historian, educator, and professional genealogist. A lifelong resident of Missouri, she resides in Saint Charles County and writes about the history of Missouri, its’ German American immigrants and African Americans. Her forthcoming book is the biography of Archer Alexander. Her stories about St. Charles Main Street can be found on her blog St. Charles County History https://stcharlescountyhistory.org/Her email for St. Charles County history is stcharlescountyhistory@gmail.com

Portion of the original plat of St. Charles Missouri circa 1817 as surveyed by Nathan Boone.

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