Rising sixty-three stories into the sky above the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a innovative monument to the nation’s westward expansion. Built on the site of St. Louis founder Pierre Laclede’s home and trading post, the Arch was completed on October 28, 1965 and became one of the city’s largest tourist attactions.
Today, more than 300,000 people visit each year and more than six thousand per day travel to the top of the Arch.
A Grand Staircase rises from the Mississippi riverfront to the Arch which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Parking near adjacent Laclede’s Landing is also available to visit the site which is part of the National Parks System.
The Gateway Arch rises 630 feet into the air and is 630 feet wide from one leg to the other. It is composed of steel – 886 tons of stainless steel – and was designed to withstand both earthquakes and high winds. The Arch is 73 feet taller than the Washington Monument. At wind speeds of ten miles per hour, the Arch sways an inch. Beneath the Arch itself, the visitors center offers other attractions. The Musuem of Westward Expansion showcases Missouri and American history focused on terroritory west of the Mississippi. An authentic tipi can be viewed along with many artifacts highlighting the Lewis and Clark expedition. The museum is designed in concentric circles, each indicating an era and as a whole, the passage of time. This musuem may be viewed free of charge. Hours are from 8am-10pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day and 9am-6pm the rest of the year. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Two movie theaters beneath the Arch offer movies daily on a huge screen. One that is always shown is the documentary “Monument to a Dream” which details the history and construction of the Arch. Other features include films about other National Parks or events. Films run 45 minutes in length.
The highlight of any visit to the Arch is a ride to the top on the site’s unique tram system. Tickets are required and can be purchased onsite or online. Two loading areas have individual themes that add to the experience. Those who board the South tram will enjoy a theme “Where Riverboats Ruled” which recreates a day on the St. Louis riverfront in the past. The days of steamboats, river commerce, and the mighty Mississippi live again here.
Those who board the North tram will find the theme there “Fitting The Final Piece” intriguing. Here, visitors relive the morning that the last piece of the Arch was lifted into place and the monument completed. It’s a unique look into living history.
Upon arriving at the top of the Gateway Arch visitors will find an observation area with windows viewing east and west. This area has the capacity to hold 160 people at any given time. There is no time limit on how long visitors can remain in this area but the average time is 45 minutes to one hour. From the small, slanted windows, viewers can see miles across the Mississippi River into Illinois. To the West, visitors gain a fantastic birds-eye view of downtown St. Louis. Many of the city’s historical buildings are visible from the top of the Arch as is the Cardinals stadium.
Another important part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is the Old Courthouse two blocks from the Arch. The historic courthouse was built beginning in 1839. Many nationally notable cases were heard here including both Dred Scott cases that focused on the issue of slavery. There is no fee to tour the Old Courthouse. Audio tours are available for $3 per person.
It’s well worth the time spent to visit the Memorial and to ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, one of the nation’s newest and best loved monuments.