Driving down Francis Street past old ornate brick mansions in the Harris Addition Historic District, you can visualize St. Joseph in the late 1800s when rich businessmen were situating their elaborate homes atop the rolling hills of the young city of St. Joseph. Before all the modern construction we see today, many landowners had panoramic unobstructed views of the Missouri River valley below.
Those who love history and preservation and cherish those two things, will fall in love with St. Joseph. In Buchanan County, over 60 sites have been designated on the National Historic Register. From historic homes, to old cemeteries, to entire neighborhoods and businesses, St. Joseph has much history preserved in its architecture — in the walls and walkways throughout its city. Many houses and buildings are dressed up in various architectural styles of different eras. Gothic, Italianate, Classical-Revival, and Victorian architecture are some of the styles of the sites recognized on the National Historic Register.
The United States Congress formed the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 so that communities could embrace their history and preserve it for the future generations of their community. That same year, the John Patee House, in St. Joseph, landed on the National Historic Register. Built in 1858, the Patee House was a 140-room hotel that saw such famous historians as Abraham Lincoln. In 1968, Missouri formed one of the country’s first state historic preservation offices and local preservation groups began to find more ways to help their communities retain their incredible history.
A drive through St. Joseph holds historical surprises throughout its neighborhoods. In some blocks, several large brick mansions are spaced throughout and separated by “newer” homes of the mid-twentieth century. Neighborhoods like the Hall Street Historic District and Robidoux Hill are a few of St. Joseph’s treasures on the National Historic Register. Some of St. Joseph’s early “millionaires” were laid to rest in Mount Mora cemetery, another site designated on the National Historic Register.
Other sites may sit alone — preserved among a neighborhood of modern housing or construction. Private homes like the Isaac Miller House, built in 1859, sit in Classical-Revival style alongside other houses along busy Ashland Avenue. While some homes like the Jesse James house are turned into museums, several other historic homes in St. Joseph have been converted into bed and breakfasts or restaurants. The Burnside-Sandusky Gothic House, also built in 1859, now welcomes customers to the Gothic House Tea and Eatery. Visitors and residents have multiple choices of historic homes or buildings in which to eat in St. Joseph.
Many businesses, including the St. Joseph Public Library and German-American Bank Building, are listed on the National Historic Register. If walls could talk downtown, those old buildings could reminisce about the early days when St. Joseph had dirt roads and street cars.
St. Joseph’s latest architectural and historical gem to be designated to the National Historic Register is the Ryan Block in the 1100 block of Frederick Avenue. The 1889 Victorian building housed multiple businesses over the years. The current owner is converting it into apartments and townhouses.
St. Joseph takes pride in its history. Through its walls and walkways, bricks and bed and breakfasts, it retains its character and proudly proclaims its history to its local citizens and to those who decide to relocate here. This old pioneer town of successful businessmen who raised the walls of homes and businesses forever preserved on the National Historic Register.