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Gateway Arch: Monument To A Dream

Jeffrey Syken

“Manifest Destiny, not a boast, meant we’d expand from coast-to-coast”

A simple child’s rhyme sums up in just a few words what took place in the fertile mind of Thomas Jefferson in the very early 19th Century. The great man envisioned the new nation stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, embracing everything in-between under a unified, continent-sized democratic republic. Westward expansion was inevitable and the Louisiana Purchase helped make it so. Doubling the size of the country, the vast area was virgin territory that needed to be explored and tamed. So it was that U.S. Army Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out in 1804 with their “Corps of Discovery” to explore the unknown at the bequest and sponsorship of President Jefferson. In 1806, they returned with much learned about the geography, resources and native people inhabiting the land.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition began the opening of the west, but it would be from the banks of the Mississippi River that the journey west would begin for most. In 1764, a French fur-trader named Laclede, standing on the western bank of the Mississippi at a turn in the river, below a bluff (a few miles south of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi River/s) instructed his young companion to: “Build a City Here.” That city became St. Louis – the “oldest European City in the Mid-West.” The city prospered with its busy riverfront the focus of commercial activity. In 1904, St. Louis proudly hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition to commemorate the catalyst of westward expansion and acknowledge its own good fortune. In the period between the World Wars, St. Louis was a shadow of its former self. That was nowhere more apparent than on the riverfront.

It would be an attorney and civic activist/leader who, while returning from serving on a national memorial project in Indiana, crossed the Mississippi by train on his return to St. Louis and gazed upon the scene of urban blight and decay that was St. Louis’ once proud center of activity; the riverfront. Having the ear of the city’s fathers and business leaders, he determined to do something about it. Do something he did, forming a coalition that from 1933 onward promoted the idea of a memorial to Thomas Jefferson, The Louisiana Purchase and, most importantly; Westward Expansion. WWII and the Korean Conflict would get in the way, so too would an elevated railway line, but a design competition held in 1947 provided the most appropriate of monuments; a grand arch, symbolic of “The Gateway to the West” that embodied the spirit of the park that would both memorialize national expansion and celebrate and beautify the city’s historic waterfront. The result: Gateway Arch National Park.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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