Touring Historic Cape Girardeau
Located roughly halfway between St. Louis to the North and Memphis to the South, Girardeu has eight sites on the National Register of Historic Places -- and dozens of other buildings worth a visit.
As for modern-day distinctions, it is home to world-class rose gardens -- not to mention Rush Limbaugh's hometown.
It was about 1733 that an adventuresome French soldier, Jean B. Girardot, established a trading post in a remote region populated by more than 20 Indian tribes.
Girardot chose a rock overlooking the Mississippi River as the site for his trading post. Trappers and river travelers soon discovered this welcome bit of civilization carved out of the vast forest that one day would become Missouri. They called the place "Cape Girardot."
A frontiersman and trader at heart, Girardot eventually moved on. The man credited with founding Cape Girardeau, Louis Lorimier, came to the area in 1793, commissioned by the Spanish Governor General to establish a military post from which to trade and interact with the Indians.
From his "Red House" on the site of Old St. Vincent's Church, Lorimier also served as the city's first goodwill ambassador, welcoming Lewis and Clark on their way to St. Louis for their journey into the unknown west, Davey Crockett as he passed through the area seeking recruits for frontier service and settlers making their way across the Mississippi River.
Under Lorimier's continuing promotion, the settlement thrived. Although Lorimier, or some of his companions, name the post "Lorimont," the name "Cape Girardot" (later modified to "Girardeau") already had gained popular acceptance among the region's small population.
Ensign Girardot's trading post had long since disappeared. But the mark he left on the region was indelible.
When the greatest discount sale in history, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, brought the district into American possession at the cost of 2 cents an acre, Lorimier donated four acres for the establishment of a seat of justice. In 1806 the city was plotted and in 1808 was incorporated into a town. Lorimier died in 1812; he is buried in historic Old Lorimier Cemetery.
With the arrival of the steamboat in 1835, Cape Girardeau became a river boom town , the busiest port between St. Louis and Memphis. Until the Civil War, the riverfront bustled with activity as a commercial center and as an inviting port of debarkation for steamboat passengers.
During the war, Cape Girardeau was occupied by Union forces who built four forts to protect the city and river. A minor skirmish was fought just west of town in 1863, but fortunately Cape Girardeau was spared the devastation that claimed so many other cities.
The post-war years brought more growth - the establishment of public education in 1867, the introduction of rail service, advances in agriculture and industry.
Rich in the heritage of the river region and its people, the story of Cape Girardeau continues to add exciting new chapters.
D. A. Glenn House
Visitors to the Glenn House follow a pathway back in time. Restored rooms depict life around 1900, reflecting an earlier Cape Girardeau society.
Luminous chandeliers, exquisite period furniture, stenciled ceilings, and art glass windows reflect a Victorian elegance that reveals the affluent lifestyle of its first occupants.
The charm and romance of the Glenn House invite visitors to listen to music from the Edison victrola, take a respite on the sweeping columned veranda, or simply revisit the elegance of days gone by.
In 1883, Edwin Branch Deane designed the Glenn House for his daughter, Lula Deane, and her husband, David Andrew Glenn. Deane (1813-1901), a Kentuckian by birth and a pioneer Cape Architect and builder of acknowledged talent, was responsible for many imposing homes, designed in various popular styles, in his lenghty career which streched from 1839 to the close of the last century.
Glenn was the leading banker and merchant in Cape Girardeau at the turn of the century. He was the founder of the mammoth wholesale-retail Glenn Mercantile Company. He occupied the home with his family untill 1915. Around 1900 the Glenns extensively remodeled the residence by adding a turret, stained-glass windows, the curved veranda, and updated the kitchen and baths to include hot water heat and electric lighting.
The Glenn family suffered a devastating loss in 1915 when their beautiful home was sold to the highest bidder on the courthouse steps. This would be the beginning of the slow deterioration, and near loss, of this local landmark.
In the early 1960's it was purchased by the late Mr. and Mrs. Robert Erlbacher. It was given to the Historical Association of Greater Cape Girardeau in 1968.
After restoration work, the Glenn House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This classic 19th century residence is open for public viewing, or for private, special occasion parties.
Listed in National Register of Historic Places October 11, 1979
The Oliver-Leming House was the home of two prominent civic-minded Missouri families who have occupied the house since its completion in 1899. The house is important as an example of the elate work of influential St. Louis architecture Jerome Bibb Legg.
Perhaps its greatest importance, however, derives from associations with the design of the Missouri state flag and efforts to gain the flags official sanction by the state legislature.
Nearly 100 years after achieving statehood, Missouri adopted an official flag on March 22, 1913. The flag was designed by the late Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, wife of former State Senator R.B. Oliver. The flag consists of three horizontal stripes of red, white and blue. These represent valor, purity, vigilance and justice. In the center white stripe is the Missouri coat-of-arms, circled by a blue band containing 24 stars, denoting that Missouri was the 24th state. See Home of Missouri's State Flag
In the Bicentennial year, local citizenry secured passage of municipal and state legislation recognizing Cape Girardeau as "Home of the Missouri State Flag". This nomination sought complementary national recognition for the Oliver-Leming House.
Listed in National Register of Historic Places September 12, 1980
Col. George C. Thilenius House Longview
Built from 1871-73, Longview's original owner and builder was George C. Thilenius. Longview is significant to the history of German immigration patterns in Missouri, the Civil War in Missouri, early industry and commerce in Cape Girardeau, and politics and government in the city and state.
Longview embodies the distinctive characteristics of transitional neo-classical Victorian residential architecture in Missouri. The house is also a late example of Greek Revival architecture in Southeast Missouri. It is believed to be the only house of its type and period surviving in the area.
George C. Thilenius was on of a number of German liberals who fled Germany following the 1848 revolution there. The settlement of large numbers of German liberals in Missouri had a drastic effect on political life in the state.
A relentless foe of slavery, Mr. Thilenius volunteered has services to the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and rose to the rank of Colonel in the Militia, commanding the Third Missouri District. As a delegate to the Drake Convention in 1865, Thilenius signed the historic ordinance abolishing slavery in Missouri.
His industrial and commercial accomplishments included ownership of a mercantile store, a flour mill which produced prize-winning flour, and a winery and soda water factory at Longview.
Mr. Thilenius served as mayor of Cape Girardeau from 1867 to 1873, and during his term of office was instrumental in establishing the first public elementary school, and in bringing the State Normal School, now Southeast Missouri State University, to Cape Girardeau. He also helped to secure appropriations for college improvements during his term as representative to the General Assembly of Missouri, 1898-1901.
Old McKendree Chapel
Text for this story is adapted from material developed by the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau and its Historic Presevation Commission. Photos were provided by and are owned by Danny Farrow, a Cape Girardeau resident and history buff who has developed much of the city's extensive website. For a more detailed glimpse at the city, you can visit his pages by clicking here
The Old House Web