Tuesday, May 29, 2012

St. Louis: Gateway to the West

For ease of transportation, St. Louis was built on a river … not just any river, but the mighty Mississippi.
Find St. Louis on a United States map and look at all the land to the west. What would you have found there in the very early 1800s? If you guessed only wilderness and native settlements you would be right.

Located on the Big Muddy—the Mississippi River—at one time St. Louis was the most westward city in the United States. Serving as the last stop for gathering supplies on the way to the west, it is where Lewis and Clark embarked on their two-year exploration expedition. Because so many travelers set off from St. Louis, it became known at the Gateway to the West. To commemorate this, a nationwide design competition was held in 1947-48. The goal was to create a national monument on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. Famed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed an arch and won the competition. Construction began in February 1963; twenty months later it was completed at a cost of $13,000,000. Open to the public in mid 1967, a specially designed tramway system leads sightseers to the top.

The Arch nears completion.

To get to the top via the tramway, a visitor must squeeze into a small capsule containing five seats. My friend described the experience as riding in the tub of a washing machine. As I rode to the top of the arch, I was glad I am neither claustrophobic nor fearful of heights. The cramped ride was worth it though because the view from the top was exquisite. Each year, over 1,000,000 visitors ride the tram to the top because the Arch is one of the most visited sites in the United States. On a clear day you can see thirty miles away!  

At 630 feet high, the Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the United States.
A view from atop the Arch. The building in the center of the photo is the Old Courthouse.
There are many interesting facts about the Gateway Arch and its construction. The Arch has foundations sunk 60 feet into the ground to provide ample support. Weighing 17,000 tons, more than 900 tons of stainless steel was used for the exterior. The Arch is composed of 142 equilateral triangles, and in an emergency more than on thousand steps allow maintenance workers access to the top. Carefully designed, the arch can withstand earthquakes and high winds. While it will sway up to an inch in 20-mile-per-hour winds, the Arch can safely sway as much as 18 inches if winds reach 150 miles per hour. 

Another view from the top of the Arch. Here you ca see Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball.
As you drive around St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is clearly visible and serves as a constant reminder of the importance of this river city to the exploration and expansion of the United States. It also helped me know exactly where the Mississippi River cuts through the city.

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