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French America Hardcover – October 4, 2001
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This book is a tour through many buildings associated with French settlement and development in the United States. Beginning with the early Huguenot settlements in New York and South Carolina, the reader is taken on to the heart of French America along the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi. Despite living among the greatest collection of French Colonial architecture in the country, I learned of near by structures of which I was totally unaware. The journey continues down the river to Louisiana with its living French culture amid the houses and buildings surviving from a way of life that is Gone With The Wind. The tour winds through sites in the Eastern states associated with French participation in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars and concludes with Civic buildings in the Washington-Virginia area inspired by French architecture.
This book broadened my understanding of the French heritage around us and sharpened my appetite to visit some of these areas. It can do the same for you.
I was fascinated to learn the history of French architecture from constructions along the Mississippi Valley, like Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, built by Normans using the same bousillage and colombage techniques found in local French villages. The more sophisticated architecture of the Creole plantations in Louisiana and the urban and civic buildings of Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C., created from the plan by Pierre-Charles L'Enfant remid us of the once prevading French influence in this country. Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate, was inspired by the Hôtel de Salm in Paris and his admiration of French architecture. The Maison Carrée in Nîmes was the prototype of another of Jefferson's architectural projects, the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, designed along with the French architect Clérisseau.
The special features on history and French culture in the US are a delight, including the Huguenots and their descendants. George Washington himself had Protestant ancestors from the l'Ile de Ré off the Brittany coast. Other sections deal with the Creole influences and the cultural importance of the Cajuns in Louisiana. As the book points out, before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when Napoleon sold the territory for 15 million dollars,(the greatest real estate deal ever) the settlers of French origin made important contributions in the realms of architecture, education and trade. The Jesuits educated and converted Indian tribes, the coureurs de bois established fur trading posts, talented artisans constructed houses and monuments largely inspired by French architecture from France, Canada and the French West Indies while blending them in such as way as to create a unique new style : American architecture. A great discovery !