Located 20 miles north of St. Louis, Florissant, Missouri, (population 50,497) was founded in 1786 by Francois Borosier Dunegant. The settlement was primarily French, and is believed to have originally been called Florissant, although the Spanish changed the name to St. Ferdinand in 1796. The early inhabitants of the area cultivated wheat, maize, and tobacco and were also trappers. The first streets in Florissant, now in Old Town, still bear their original names.
Members of the Catholic faith had a great influence on Florissant’s early development. Jesuits were some of the first to arrive in the area. Later a group of nuns came from nearby St. Charles to Florissant to start a convent. Among those nuns was Rose Philip Duchesne, who was canonized in 1988. Saint Duchesne, who was noted for her work with children, opened a school for Indian girls in Florissant as well as the first orphanage in St. Louis. The convent and adjacent church are known as the St. Ferdinand Shrine, and are both a Florissant Landmark and a National Register of Historic Places site.
In the mid-1800s German immigrants began settling in the Florissant area. The soil was so rich that German farmers began to cultivate the state’s best vegetables and raised many of the crops that fed the residents of St. Louis. The city remained a quiet village until the 1950s, when it became a part of St. Louis’ post-war suburban sprawl. In 1950 the population was 3,757 people; by 1980 it was more than 51,000.
The St. Ferdinand Church Archaeological Dig and Survey was a three year project timed to tie in with the nationwide Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration. The project was the first archaeological excavation of a French Colonial site in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The goals of the project were to locate the foundation of the original St. Ferdinand Church and to investigate the lifestyle of early French settlers in the St. Louis region. The church was a log structure built around 1790 and used until 1821, when the current St. Ferdinand Shrine was built. The church burned in 1836. After three seasons of digging, the site of the church was not found, but archaeologists did find evidence of the church’s rectory and more than 10,000 artifacts. The dig was supported by the city of Florissant, fundraising by the Archaeological Dig Committee, and grants from the National Park Service and the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office.
Both the city of Florissant and local non-profit groups work together to protect the city’s historic resources. Florissant became a Certified Local Government in 2001. The Landmark District Commission is the governmental group that leads preservation activities. The Florissant Comprehensive Code and the Florissant Zoning Code both outline preservation requirements. The commission has published several brochures for owners of historic homes outlining preservation guidelines, as well as a walking guide of the historic district. Old Town Florissant is a coalition of four non-profits that work together to promote the preservation of Florissant history. Participating groups include the St. Ferdinand Shrine, Historic Florissant, the Florissant Valley Historical Society, and Florissant Old Town Partners.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2008.