Ste. Genevieve County
One in a row of houses along St. Mary’s Road associated with Ste. Genevieve’s African-American heritage, the William Brooks House is a rare survivor in a community known for its rich French Colonial heritage and architecture. The house is a classic example of a vernacular i-house form that was popular throughout the mid-to-late 19th century in Missouri and across the Midwest.
William Brooks was the patriarch of a much admired and highly respected family whose history communicates an important component of Ste. Genevieve’s history. Born in 1889, William was an employee of three prominent families in the community: St. Gemme, the Roziers, and the Valles. He was an honored and decorated World War I veteran who had served nobly in France in some of the haviest combat missions including Argonne Forest, Chateau Thiery, and Catigny, Reims and Mets. On July 14, 1928, William Brooks married Johannah McNabb, a school teacher. His was was the first African-American from Ste. Genevieve to earn a college degree. A much loved educator, she was elected Vice-President of the Missouri Parent Teachers Association in 1940, well before most Missouri schools were even desegregated. In 1941, she became a professor at Stowe Teachers College (now Harris-Stow University in St. Louis). All of the Brooks children went on to have highly successful careers and lives.
Unoccupied since the death of William Brooks in 1983, the house has suffered from years of deferred maintenance. The flood of 1993 resulted in further damage as flood waters inundated the first floor for nearly 6 weeks. Foundation walls have begun to fail, front porch structural work is needed, and the house’s rear el is in a state of near collapse. A grassroots effort has resulted in the creation of a committee which has secured a $5,000 grant to begin development of a local African American Interpretive Center. The committee hopes to persuade the family to donate or sell the property to a non-profit organization that could develop the site for this purpose. However, neither the funds nor the commitment from the family are in place to ensure that the William Brooks house will remain to tell the personal story of one family’s legacy to the African American heritage of Ste. Genevieve.