Visiting the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial contains the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and St. Louis’ Old Courthouse. Due to time restrictions, we were only able to fully explore the arch, just see the outside of the courthouse, and see only a little of the museum.
The arch was designed by Eero Saarinen as part of a nationwide competition in 1947-48 to design a monument that captured the spirit of the western pioneers. The stainless steel arch is 630 feet tall. The construction of the arch did not start until 1963 and was finished on October 28, 1965. The foundations of the arch are sunk 60 feet into the ground, so the arch can withstand earthquakes and high winds. It sways about 1 inch in 20mph winds but is built to be able to sway 18 inches.
You enter the arch by walking underneath it. Underneath is a gift shop, a store that resembles a western frontier supply store, the Westward Expansion Museum, a theater, and the loading area for the tram. The first thing we did was see the movie on Lewis and Clark’s Expedition in the theater. That was one of the movies showing at the time, as I understand the movies change every so often. After the movie, we took the tram up to the top of the arch. On the ride up you can look out the window at the inside of the arch. At the top of the arch there are small windows on both sides. One side overlooks downtown St. Louis, and the other side looks across the river into Illinois. It was a pretty clear day, so the view was spectacular.
The Westward Expansion Museum is located beneath the arch. The museum contains mounted animal specimens, an authentic American Indian tipi, and information of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition.
The St. Louis Old Courthouse, dating to 1839, is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the city. It is most famous as the site of the first two trails of the Dred Scott case in 1847 and 1850.