Sitting right at the shore of the Mississippi is THE ARCH—Gateway to the West—but more formally known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. This massive 630 foot steel structure is an architectural feat of engineering. What I didn’t know before visiting this National Park system site is that it is named for Thomas Jefferson’s role in the 800,000 square mile expansion of the United States through the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Including land from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, America had made the land deal of all time.
There is a nicely done museum featuring the story of Lewis & Clark’s exploration of this new territory during their 19th century expedition. The National Geographic film telling their story plays throughout the day in the visitors’ center theater.
The Arch is probably the most well known landmark in St. Louis. Completed in 1965, this 5-year construction project resulted in the tallest monument in the USA. You can ride up to the top of this steel structure in a "capsule-like" vehicle if you do not fear heights or small enclosed areas. Having heard some horror stories of those with vertigo and claustrophobia, I decided to opt out of the trip to the top. Having seen some of the wonderful photographs from up there, I sincerely wish I wasn't so fearful. From high atop the Arch, you can for miles and miles.
One of the most touching human interest stories here is that of Dred Scott, the slave who went to court to win his freedom in the Old Courthouse (1847-1850). Unfortunately, after a series of trials and decisions, overrulings and appeals...the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling that Scott and his wife must remain slaves. It is believed that this case is what escalated tensions in America that ultimately resulted in the Civil War between free and slave states.
There’s a lot to see and do here in St. Louis so make sure that you allow plenty of time at one of the most historically significant landmarks in the Midwest.