The Saint Joseph Historical Society was formed in 1867 on the second floor of the State National Bank Building at the southeast corner of Fourth and Felix. The bank building is still standing and is known today as the Missouri Valley Trust Co. Although it no longer used for banking purposes, it is open as a museum. The first president was Colonel Albe M. Saxton. Ripley Calkins was elected secretary. At some time, and no one knows exactly when, the organization became inactive. It was revived in 1949 by Judge Zwick. The organization's main goal, at that time, was to save the Pony Express Stables from destruction.
Bartlett Boder was elected president. He served in this office for 18 years. Glenn burgess was elected secretary and George U. Richmond was elected treasurer. The organization was incorporated on May 11, 1950. For many years the Historical Society held its meetings at the St. Joseph Museum at 11th and Charles.
In the 1950's, the Historical Society placed painted wooden signs on some of the historic structures in our city. One of the many sites marked was that of Robidoux Row which many years later would become the permanent home of the Saint Joseph Historical Society. These signs are all gone now due to weathering, vandals, etc. The Historical Society also restored a small two story building in Market Square. It was the express office where the Pony Express riders picked up their sack of mail before crossing the river into Kansas and on to California. The Historical Society ran a little country store in the building. It was hoped that the entire Market Square area could be restored.
In the late 1960's and early 70's, St. Joseph was caught up in the Urban Renewal craze. One of the goals of the renewal group was to tear down all the buildings on Market Square and build a hotel there. Of course they met with opposition from preservationist. Many people came up with plans on how the area could be revitalized. To make a long story short, the huge cranes came in at midnight and knocked down the fronts of all the buildings on Market Square including the historic express office where the Historical Society was located.
The Historical Society was told they should go north of downtown and save Robidoux Row since it was out of the Urban Renewal district. That is how the Historical Society ended up at Robidoux Row. It is thought that the Row is the oldest building in St. Joseph.
It was built by the founder of our town, Joseph Robidoux III, as a row of one room apartments where newcomers to the town in the 1840's and 50's could live rent free "if they were of the right quality" until their house was completed. This sounds very generous but remember our city founder had just sold them a lot for $100 or $150 if it was on the corner. Six of the original apartments on the west burned in 1932 and were razed. We still have 10 rooms left.
The Historical Society rescued the building just in time, as it was condemned and the site was to become an off ramp for I-229, a new highway being built in the area. The off-ramp is now located just a few feet west of the building but the Row was saved. The Historical Society had the building put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, purchased the building in 1974, and restored the building as a Bicentennial Project. It was 1981 before it could open as a museum. Lack of money often meant very slow progress.
In the 1970's, the Saint Joseph Historical Society began a festival called the Robidoux Festival with the proceeds going toward the restoration and maintenance of Robidoux Row. This was the first large festival in Northwest Missouri. It continued for 24 years. A large festival called Trails West! was formed to celebrate our city's sesquicentennial in 1993. After a few years this new festival more or less put our festival out of business.
The Historical Society owns and operates Robidoux Row Museum, which is a full time job as a 160 year old building has one problem after another. It seems everything new (like furnaces, air conditioners, and plumbing) that was installed in the 1970's is now breaking down so we constantly need to replace these including a wooden shingle roof on the building which is about ½ block long. We receive no money from local, state or federal governments. We have about 300 members, so their donations and memberships help us survive. We also have fund raisers throughout the year to help defray the continually rising cost of utilities. We also have a walk-out basement with two rather long rooms and an attached patio with a garden, all of which we rent out for parties, weddings, receptions, church services, etc. The rent from these help us pay our bills also. The Historical Society has sponsored a Robidoux Reunion in 1998, 2000, and 2005. Robidoux's from all over the county and Canada are invited to come here and meet. They are all related to Andre Robidou (no x) who came to North America in 1666.
At one time the Historical Society organized home tours in conjunction with our Robidoux Festival, but there are now several other groups in the city and they have taken over much of what the Historical Society once did. Our main goal now is to maintain and operate Robidoux Row, and preserve the historical treasures of St. Joseph.
We now have one full time paid employee (Executive Director).
The museum is open eleven months of the year, being closed the month of January.
The following members have served as president of the Historical Society:
1949-1967 Bartlett Boder
1968-1969 Leonard Gasper
1970-1971 Ray Waldo
1972-1973 Norman Burmont
1974 Mrs. William Kimberlin
1975-1977 Mildred Roundy
1978 Fred Organ
1979-1980 Norman Burmont
1981-1982 Bebe Grimes
1983-1984 George K. Richmond
1985-1986 George Heckel
1987-1988 Elaine Guenther
1989-1990 Lt. Col. Frank Flesher
1991-1992 J. Marshall White
1993 Francis L. Peniston
1994-1995 Clyde Weeks
1996 Francis L. Peniston
1996-1998 Karen Thurnau
1999-2000 Deb Cook
2001-2002 Del Sutherland
2003 Deb Cook
2004-2005 Walt Drannan
2006-2007 Joyce Sutherland
2008-2009 Mary V. Smith
2010-2011 Bill Leppert
2012-2013 John Tapia
2014 Ivana Calhoun
2014-2015 Lisa Logan
2016 Steve Hofferber