Historic Sites and Buildings
This memorial celebrates the vision of President Jefferson, sponsor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and architect of westward expansion, as well as all aspects of that vital national movementin which St. Louis, the "gateway to the West," played a key role. The expedition set out from nearby Camp Wood, and Lewis made many of the final arrangements at St. Louis, the return destination.
Founded in 1764 by Frenchmen from New Orleans, St. Louis evolved as a center of French culture and Spanish governmental control. In 1803 the United States acquired it as part of the Louisiana Purchase, an area soon traversed by Lewis and Clark. Conveniently located in relation to the mouths of the Ohio, Missouri, and other Mississippi tributaries, St. Louis became the hub of mid-continental commerce, transportation, and culturethe point where East met West and jumping-off place to the wilderness beyond. A base of operations for traders, travelers, scientists, explorers, military leaders, Indian agents, and missionaries, it was also headquarters of the western fur trade and focus of scientific and political thought in the West.
Along the waterfront, hulking steamboats from the East and South met the river boats that served the frontier communities and out posts on the upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. At this major transfer point, a small but teeming city, mercantile establishments, boatyards, saloons, and lodginghouses accommodated and supplied the westbound settlers and other frontiersmen who congregated there before setting out across the Plains. Oregon and California pioneers and gold seekers bought tools, wagons, guns, and supplies; lumbermen, planters, farmers, and fur dealers sold their products; and artisans fashioned Newell & Sutton plows, Murphy wagons for the Santa Fe trade, Grimsley dragoon saddles, Hawken "plains" rifles, and the cast-iron stoves of Filley, and Bridge & Beach.
Lewis and Clark had been in the vanguard of that westward surge. In 1803-4 their expedition wintered at Camp Wood, then in present Illinois and now in Missouri, about 18 miles north of St. Louis at the mouth of the Wood River on the east bank of the Mississippi. While Clark directed operations at Camp Wood, Lewis spent most of his time in St. Louis, Kaskaskia, and Cahokia recruiting men, obtaining supplies, and acquiring information. At St. Louis, capital of Upper Louisiana and still in Spanish possession despite the cession of Louisiana back to France in 1800, he established relatively amicable relations with governmental authorities and gathered all possible knowledge about Louisiana. On March 9-10, 1804, he witnessed the ceremonies transferring Upper Louisiana from France to the United States; similar ceremonies about 3 months earlier in New Orleans had marked the transfer of Lower Louisiana.
On May 14, while Lewis was still in St. Louis, Clark and the rest of the expedition started up the Missouri from Camp Wood and 2 days later arrived at St. Charles. Lewis joined them there on May 20, and the next day the westward trek resumed. More than 2 years and 4 months later, on September 23, 1806, Lewis and Clark triumphantly returned to St. Louis, where they disbanded the expedition.
Clark returned to St. Louis from the East the next year and established his residence there. For most of the period until his death in 1838, he held the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs, but also served at various times as a general in the militia and as Governor of Missouri Territory. Lewis also resided in the city, in 1808-9, while Governor of Louisiana Territory. He apparently committed suicide in Tennessee in the latter year while returning to Washington, D.C., on official business.
To dramatize westward expansion and the rich cultural, political, and economic benefits accruing from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, an extensive development program for the memorial was undertaken by the National Park Service and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, a nonprofit organization of public-spirited citizens. Obsolescent industrial buildings occupying about 40 city blocks have been cleared away as part of a broad urban renewal program. The area of the memorial, which comprises about 85-1/2 acres along the Mississippi waterfront in the heart of downtown St. Louis on the site of the original village, is bounded on the south by Poplar Street, on the north by Washington Street, on the east by the Mississippi River, and on the west by the Mark Twain Expressway, except for two blocks extending westward that contain the Old Courthouse.
The dominant feature of the memorial is a 630-foot-high stainless steel arch, designed by the noted architect Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965. Rising from the west bank of the Mississippi River, it symbolizes the historic role of St. Louis as gateway to the West. It contains a special elevator system enabling the visitor to reach an observatory at the top. Scaled to the heroic dimensions of such structures as the Washington Monument, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty, the arch ranks with them in size and grandeur.
An underground visitor center, featuring a Museum of Westward Expansion, is at the base of the arch. Exhibits present the story of our western heritage in new dimensions.
Two historic buildings are preserved at the memorial. One is the Old Courthouse, constructed during the period 1839-64. It was the scene of the first trial in the Dred Scott case and the dominant architectural feature of the town during the years St. Louis was the "emporium of the West." Its rotunda resounded with the oratory of Senator Thomas H. Benton and other famed speakers of the 19th century. At the courthouse, Benton delivered his well-known oration, using as his theme Bishop Berkeley's poetic phrase "Westward the course of empire." The second historic structure is the Old Cathedral, built during the years 1831-34 on Catholic Church property set aside at the time of the founding of St. Louis. At one time the seat of the archdiocese, it is still a shrine and place of worship.
In the general vicinity of the Gateway Arch are the sites of several structures once owned or occupied by William Clark, as well as many others related to early St. Louis history. These sites, which by now have all been obliterated or buried, include those of various Clark residences, which he purchased or constructed; his museum of Indian curiosities, which attracted many visitors to St. Louis; storehouses, offices, and council houses he utilized in dealing with the Indians; and properties he rented to others. In his later years, he lived mainly at his farm, on Bellefontaine Road about 3-1/2 miles north of the city, until his death at the downtown home of his son Meriwether Lewis Clark.
Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004