The 1811-12 New Madrid Earthquakes were a series of three major earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks
that rocked this region over a three year period. This exhibit was produced to commemorate the 200th anniversary
of the quakes. We looked at them from an historical, not scientific perspective. The exhibit was installed for about a
year at our LeMeilleur House. It was assembled and produced by our museum director, Lesley Barker.
Please enjoy the New Madrid Earthquake Exhibit.
Over 500 aftershocks were recorded in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, between the first
of the New Madrid earthquakes on December 16, 1811 and the second huge event on
January 23, 1812. Many of the vertical log French colonial style homes in this oldest
town in the state weathered and withstood these tremors. As far north as Herculaneum,
Missouri, chimneys collapsed but further south whole towns were devastated: New
Madrid and Little Prairie, to be specific. Little Prairie, where Caruthersville
is today, was totally destroyed. The vibrations traveled through the continent being
felt in Colorado as well as causing church bells to sound in Boston according to
the contemporary records.
The circa 1792 Louis Bolduc House is the perfect venue for a bicentennial commemorative
exhibit of these earthquakes. Not only did this structure survive; its builder,
Louis Bolduc, lived through the quakes as well. Like many who shared his background,
this native of Quebec experienced more suffering than any of us can imagine. His
first home was burned by the British army in St. Joachim, New France, after the
1759 Battle of Quebec which probably caused him to move his first wife and baby
son to Ste. Genevieve. Both mother and child died en route near that “stinking field
of onions” where Chicago is today. He arrived in the “Old Town” of Ste. Genevieve
and soon married Agatha Govreau. They had four children. The fourth, Jean-Baptiste,
died at around four months of age. So did his mother. Soon Louis married for the
third and last time, Marie Courtois. She bore him two sons, both of whom died as
Next, the poteaux en terre vertical log house that Louis built for Agatha
in the “Old Town” was flooded to the rafters by the Mississippi River during that
“Year of the Floods”, 1785. It flooded again in 1787. By 1792 the town had relocated
en masse to its present site and Louis Bolduc had become one of the wealthiest of
its citizens, named in the Spanish records as Upper Louisiana’s lead producer of
six commodities: wheat, indigo, tobacco, lead, salt, and pork.
The house he built
here is expansive and sturdy. It still retains its original vertical log walls,
Norman truss system, and the original floors –even after the 1811-1812 series of
New Madrid earthquakes certainly rattled it and perhaps collapsed the chimneys.
Besides overcoming the psychological and physical effects of war trauma, fire, the
deaths of two wives and four children, and multiple catastrophic flooding- not to
mention other horrifying events such as discovering five men killed and scalped
in the hills, Louis Bolduc survived the New Madrid earthquakes by three years. It
is fitting to commemorate the earthquakes at this National Historic Landmark site
which he built.
What the Earthquake Left Behind
Etegami by Dosanko Debbie
The Bolduc House Museum’s New Madrid Earthquake Bicentennial Exhibit included information
about the 1811-1812 earthquakes: what happened, where, when, who recorded what kinds
of observations, and how would the same information be collected and disseminated
today. The exhibit focused on the contemporary responses to the quakes: the naturalist’s
response, the artist’s response, the journalist’s response, the humanitarian response,
the spiritual response, the governmental response, the criminal response etc.
addition to the contemporary responses, we are thrilled to have prints of etegami
images created by Dosanko Debbie, a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis
and a resident of Hokkaido, Japan. Her paintings were inspired by the recent Japanese
earthquake and tsunami and feature folk images along with intensely evocative narrative
text which was on display at the Bolduc House Museum’s Linden Hall Gallery for one of our
Fourth Friday Ste. Genevieve Art Walks.
The exhibit also contained photographs of the damage
done in the 2010 Haitian earthquake as well
as a description of a humanitarian response to bring clean water to that nation
in the aftermath of its earthquake. These images were on display in the Bolduc-LeMeilleur
House which, incidently, was built by Rene LeMeilleur, who owned a sugar cane plantation
in Haiti and fled that nation after the successful slave revolt.
Back to the index for this page