July 31, 2018
DEFINITION: To establish or set up, especially with provision for continuing existence.
Born in 1783 to a St. Louis family of merchants and fur traders, Joseph Robidoux would become the founder of St. Joseph, MO. Young Joseph would accompany his father on fur trading trips and developed an affinity for fur trading in his teens. As a young man he worked and established trading posts throughout the region, including present day Chicago and North Omaha. After the death of his first wife he eventually made it back to St. Louis where he worked for the American Fur Company. It was this company that would send him sometime between 1826 and 1831 to a location known as the Blacksnake Hills to establish a trading post along the banks of the Missouri River.
This location was not unknown to Robidoux as he and his family had been trading with Native Americans in Northwest Missouri since about 1799. Sources suggest that his first trading post in the Blacksnake Hills area was located at the corner of what is now Jules and Second Street in St. Joseph, MO. Robidoux found great success at this trading post and eventually would help to establish many trading posts (temporary and permanent) throughout the region. He was well known in the area and from historical accounts was respected by the Native Americans and fellow American traders alike.
In 1836 the Platte Purchase added the counties of Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Holt, Nodaway, and Platte to the state of Missouri creating even more opportunity for enterprising merchants and fur traders as settlers started to move to the newly acquired lands along the Missouri River. Joseph Robidoux saw opportunity in selling off his acreage to settlers and soon began to grow a small community. Wanting to create a community with resources to support its citizens sites were left open for church locations and marketplaces. Those wanting to build a home in St. Joseph could purchase interior plots for $100 and corner lots for $150.
Robidoux chose a plan for his city that featured narrow streets in the European fashion designed by Frederick W. Smith. He donated an entire city block for a civic building, which is the spot that the Buchanan County Courthouse still stands. Many of the original streets in the city were actually named after Joseph’s children and family members. In 1843 the original plat for St. Joseph was submitted to the state and on July 26th the city of St. Joseph was officially established.
The population of St. Joseph grew from 800 in 1843 to 8,932 in less than 20 years, and Joseph Robidoux was an active member of the community during this time and saw the community grow and flourish. During his later years he oversaw many development projects and continued to be committed to the community that he founded.
Modern St. Joseph would be completely different from what Robidoux remembered during his time here, with one familiar exception, Robidoux Row. Currently operating as a museum at the corner of Poulin and 3rd Street, Robidoux Row was built by Robidoux to meet the housing needs of newcomers looking to start their lives in St. Joseph. Construction of these connected apartments begin in the 1840s and lasted until the late 1850s. Interestingly, Joseph Robidoux made one of these spaces his home after his third wife passed away in 1857 until his death in 1868.
Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places visitors to Robidoux Row can explore the four remaining apartments from the original Robidoux Row, with many spaces that have been restored to look just as they did in the nineteenth century. These unique spaces contain some of Robidoux’s personal and familial belongings in addition to other household items from this period.
Next time you are exploring St. Joseph pay a visit to Robidoux Row. Or stop in to visit the bronze statue of a young Joseph Robidoux sculpted by Joe Beeler in front of the mural of the Missouri River titled “Welcome to St. Joseph,” painted by artist, Sam Welty at the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau. If your Robidoux inspired travels take you toward the river check out the replica of his Blacksnake Hills trading post located in the museum of the Remington Nature Center. Everywhere you look there is a nod to our founder and origins including a portrait of Joseph Robidoux that oversees the library patrons at the St. Joseph Public Library downtown branch. These locations and more carry on the legacy of our city’s founder and the interesting history of our community.
In the year 2018 we celebrated 175 years since the founding of St. Joseph, Missouri…but if that wasn’t enough to celebrate it also marked the 235th birthday of our founder Joseph Robidoux.
“Joseph Robidoux: Trader, Town Builder” Trish Bransky
“Joseph Robidoux’s Family: Fur Traders and Trail Blazers” Merrill J. Mattes
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