Visiting the Gateway Arch – An Architectural Masterpiece in St. Louis, Missouri!

50 States At 30, U.S.A.

Is business or pleasure travel taking you to St. Louis? Make sure you make time to visit the Gateway Arch!

Part of the National Park Service’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Gateway Arch reflects St. Louis’ role in the *Westward Expansion* of the United States during the nineteenth century. The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the Old Courthouse.

*Do you remember {vaguely, if your middle school attention span was as short as mine…} learning about the Louisiana Purchase, Compromise of 1850, Manifest Destiny and the Trail of Tears? That was all part of the Westward Expansion.

With just 24 or so hours in St. Louis, I dropped my bags at my hotel – which I loved, the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch – and set out to explore the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

-> View from my hotel room. Yes, I know it’s not the most sightly view, but imagine it once the Expansion Project is complete – the grounds surrounding the Gateway Arch will be magnificent! <-

Since parts of the Gateway Arch grounds were closed due to the construction, I was to purchase my timed ticket for the top of the Arch at the Old Courthouse, which was serving as the Gateway Arch Visitor’s Center. It was easy to find, made even easier thanks to these handy directionals on the sidewalk.

The Old Courthouse holds incredible history of its own – it was the site of hundreds of suits for freedom, including the 1847 Dred Scott Decision, during which Scott, with his wife Harriet, sued for – and were granted – their freedom. After many appeals, the case was decided upon by the Supreme Court, with the Supreme Court stating that slaves were property, and as such, had no right to sue. (Cue the start of the Civil War…) During my next trip to St. Louis, I’ll definitely plan more time to explore the Old Courthouse!

The sheer magnitude of the Arch is something that’s only comprehensible in person. To imagine that its design was envisioned back in 1947 is incredible!

Quick fun fact: In 1947, the National Park Service held an architectural competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which 37-year-old architect Eero Saarinen entered. Saarinen viewed the project as an opportunity to establish himself as an independent architect, and set out to design a monument not only to Thomas Jefferson and the nation, but also to the modern age. Fast forward years, and his stunning Gateway Arch vision had been brought to life PLUS he’d secured his recognition as an architecture “great” with other projects that included the iconic TWA Terminal in New York City.

Taking the tram to the top of the Arch was what I was most excited about, however the entire facility provided multiple interesting and informational sights. Learning about the builders who worked day in and day out was fascinating!

Now’s the time when I should mention that taking the tram to the top is NOT for the feint of heart… or the claustrophobic.

After waiting in line, I was ushered, along with a family of four, into a pod that looked like it was straight out of a Jetsons episode. I’m a petite person so I fared just fine, but it’s clear that these pods were not designed to fit five of today’s average Americans!

The family, from Ohio, were lovely. We enjoyed small talk during the few-minute ride to the top and once our pod’s doors opened, we emerged to this sight:

Just a few steps up and we were in the narrow top of the Arch!

-> Gotta love the gentleman on the right, who literally climbed into the window! <-

At 630 feet, visitors can see for miles. And baseball fans will probably enjoy the bird’s eye view of the Cardinal’s field!

It was neat to see Downtown St. Louis and the surrounding area, but to me the real “wow factor” was in thinking about what kind of structure we were in. I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building, the top of the World Trade Center, etc – both of which provide a more extensive view than the Gateway Arch – but to me, the most memorable aspect of going to the top of the Arch was thinking about what must have gone into constructing it; from the mathematical equation used to create the Arch’s curve to the precision the welders required while fusing together piece after piece of stainless steel.

It’s easy for older, American monuments to be overshadowed by the monstrosities being erected today in places like Dubai and Hong Kong {okay, so they’re stunning works of architectural art, but you know what I mean…} but it’s important to remember that we have incredible displays of innovation right here on our shores!

To plan your visit to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, visit this site.

To learn more about the Gateway Arch specifically, and for tickets to the top, visit this site.

Have you visited the Gateway Arch? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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