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Visit the National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis

Updated on May 27, 2015

Known as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis has many attractions with one of them very noticeable from a great distance.

The Gateway Arch, which can been seen for miles, is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial that features the Old Courthouse and the Museum of Western Expansion.

The National Park Service has been in charge of the facility since 1935 and it is named after Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.

The memorial is located near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that began in 1804, one year after the Louisiana Purchase under the leadership of Jefferson.

Jefferson, who was the author of the Declaration of Independence, served as president from 1801 to 1809. Jefferson chose U.S. Army Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark to explore the newly acquired territory, which they accomplished by 1806.

Finished in 1965 after two years of construction, the Gateway Arch is 630 feet tall and came from the minds of architect Eero Saarinen and engineer Hannskarl Bandel. The site was officially dedicated in 1968.

If you can "survive" the ride to the top in a tiny compartment with five seats, view is spectacular.

From the observation deck on one side, you can see Missouri and the city. Among the sites in view are Busch Stadium, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, and in the other direction, the Edward Jones Dome, the home of the St. Louis Rams.

You can see Illinois from the other side, which has the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site off in the distance. The Native American site dates back to the nearly 1,000 years before European settlement began to occur.

Prior to your trip to the top of the arch, you can take a stroll through the Museum of Western Expansion. There are many exhibits about the history of the area along with stories of the construction of the arch. A movie is also available to pass the time, while you wait for the tram ride to the arch observation room.

As wonderful as the total arch experience is the Old Courthouse is an important place to visit. The structure was started in 1816 before Missouri became a state in 1821. There have been several renovations until the dome was completed during the Civil War.

It was the site of two significant decisions in the history of the United States as the cases went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The Dred Scott decision in 1846 was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court that he and his wife, who had been slaves in a free state, were not actually citizens and therefore not free.

Another case from 1872, Virginia Minor tried to vote and was arrested because women were not allowed to participate in elections. Three years later, like the Dred Scott case, the decision was upheld.

Although not technically reversed, both decisions were essentially changed by amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The St. Louis area has many great tourist attractions to visit, but the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial should be at the top of anyone's list.

Construction of the Gateway Arch was completed in 1965.
Construction of the Gateway Arch was completed in 1965. | Source
The Old Courthouse was the site of the Dred Scott decision.
The Old Courthouse was the site of the Dred Scott decision. | Source
Plaque outside the Old Courthouse.
Plaque outside the Old Courthouse. | Source
This is the court room where the Dred Scott decision was issued.
This is the court room where the Dred Scott decision was issued. | Source

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