Circus Trip 2018: Gateway Arch NP History


Gateway Arch National Park
St. Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch is a fascinating park with a unique history.  Located in St. Louis, Missouri, it was first established as a National Memorial on December 21, 1935, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  It commemorates three things: The Louisiana Purchase and subsequent westward migration, the first American civil government west of the Mississippi River, and the Dred Scott decision, the monumental Supreme Court decision on slavery that contributed to the fiery debate on slavery and was one of the pivotal events leading up to the Civil War.

Sadly, in the 1940s when they were clearing the land where the arch would eventually be built, they razed several historically significant buildings, including the 1818 home of fur trader Manuel Lisa and the 1819 home of St. Louis pioneer Jean Pierre Chouteau.  I guess those guys didn’t seem as important.  I wish they would have left those homes, or at least moved them to elsewhere on the property!  I guess I’m one who likes as much history as I can get.

The Gateway Arch itself was constructed between 1963 and 1965, and is 630 feet tall, and interestingly, also 630 feet wide at the base.  There is a tram that takes visitors to the top, where you can get a birds-eye view of the river, the park, and the government buildings below.  The basement has an exhibit about Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific Ocean from 1804 to 1806, and the later migrations of the pioneers.

But one of the best parts of Gateway Arch National Park is the Old Courthouse, which was built between 1839 and 1864.  The Dred Scott case originated here and was tried in 1846, with enslaved Dred Scott suing his master for freedom, because he had been moved to a free state.  You can see the actual courtroom where the case was argued, although the room has been altered to preserve the integrity of the building.

On February 22, 2018, Gateway Arch was made a National Park by President Donald Trump.  It is the nation’s smallest national park, covering only 91 acres.  It contains the Gateway Arch, the park surrounding it, and the Old Courthouse.  Annual visitation in 2019 was 2,055,309.  That’s a lot of people for such a small park.  There is just so much to see and do here.  I’ll share about my visit next!

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