St. Louis Attractions: Visiting the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch is a 62-acre park located on the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. The memorial consists of three main attractions: the Gateway Arch, The Museum of Westward Expansion, and the Old
Courthouse. Built in honor of ThomasJefferson and the Lewis and Clark expedition that opened the West for U.S.
expansio. The park grounds and the three structures are open throughout the year for visitors, although hours vary
depending on the season.
The GatewayArch was designed by Eero Saarinen, who won the design competition held in 1947-1948. However, construction of the stainless steel, 630-foot arch did not begin until 1963. The project was completed in 1965 at a total cost of $15 million. The arch was built to withstand both earthquakes and high winds and thus visitors can detect slight movement when visiting the observation platform at the top of the structure. For a small fee, visitors may reach this platform by taking a tram to the top. Although visitors may stay as long as they like during visiting hours, a typical trip to the top and back takes about 45 minutes. The arch houses two trams, one in each leg of the structure.
The Museum of Westward Expansion is located underground, under the arch. It commemorates the Lewis and Clark Expedition commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Jefferson stated that the purpose of the expedition was to “explore the Missouri River, and such principal streams of is, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oreon, Colorado or any other river, may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce." In addition to the various exhibits, visitors can watch a film about the construction of the arch, purchase tickets and board the trams to visit the top of the arch, visit a facsimile of a general store from the period, and take advantage of the resources available in the gift
The Old Courthouse stands at the end of the corridor that begins at the Mississippi River and moves west into downtown St. Louis.
Built in 1839, it is one of the oldest buildings in St. Louis and the site of one of the most famous trials in the history of the United States, the Dred Scott trial, which was one of the sparks igniting the Civil War. Scott, a slave, was born in Virginia. Owned by the Blow family, Scott moved here in 1830. He was then sold to a military surgeon stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Dr. John Emerson. Scott married another slave and had children. As Emerson’s slaves, they moved with the Emersons as he was sent to various posts within the United States, some of which were in free states and territories. Emerson returned to St. Louis is 1843 and died within a year, leaving Scott and his family to his wife. Mrs. Emerson hired the Scotts out to other people. In 1846, Scott and his wife sued for their freedom and the freedom of their children siting the Emersons did not give them their freedom during the 9 years they had lived in parts of the country in which slavery was forbidden under the provisions of the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
The first case was held in the Old Courthouse in 1847 and the court found against the Scotts. However, they were allowed to appeal. In 1850, the Circuit Court of St. Louis County heard the case, also in the Old Courthouse. This court overturned the lower court and gave the Scotts their freedom. However, in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the Circuit Court ruling. The Scotts then filed in federal court. Ultimately, in 1856, the United States Supreme Court heard the case and ruled against Scott for two reasons. First, slaves were not citizens under the United States Constitution and therefore had no legal standing to sue. More important, however, the Court ruled that residing in a free state did not change the status of property, which was the legal status of slaves. The Court further invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, stating that Congress did not have the authority to limit slavery because property rights were guaranteed by the Constitution.
History buffs will find a wealth of information about the expedition and the Dred Scott case at both the Westward Expansion Museum and the Old Courthouse, but history buffs aren’t the only ones who will enjoy these venues. The park connecting the three structures is a beautiful place to walk, watch the river, and enjoy various activities throughout the year from picnics to concerts to fireworks displays.
And just as the river is constantly changing, so too will this national memorial be changing in coming years. Plans are now underway to improve access and afford even more opportunities to enjoy this venue. So be sure to include the Jefferson National
Expansion Memorial on your list of things to do the next time you visit St. Louis. Each time you come, you’ll discover new things, so plan to visit often.