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The Gateway from the Past to Present

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The Gateway Arch has brought St. Louis back to its roots. It still serves as a symbol of the accomplishments and dreams of the American people. The Arch serves as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s part in opening the West, the Dred Scott trial, and the explorers who helped form our history. St. Louis is known as the home of the Arch as the gateway to the west. It has many connections to the Louisiana Purchase. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.” The Arch brought the American people back together after the Great Depression. During the Great Depression, the American people were seeing the economy falling apart along with their city. Today, the Gateway Arch celebrates the diverse people who shaped the region and the country. The history of the Arch greatly influences the economy and people around St. Louis.

The Arch represents St. Louis’ part in the Westward Expansion of the United States (Source 1). A document called the Treaty of Cession was a treaty between the United States and American Indian tribes that authorized Jefferson to take possession of certain territories. This allowed for a transfer of land from the northern border of Canada, and from the Mississippi River to the top of the Rocky Mountains, in total giving the United States 828,000 square miles for around $15 million dollars. This land expansion was huge event for the United States.

Bob Moore, a historian for the National Park Service’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial said, “We were another country before this document was signed.” (Source 2) Before the treaty was signed, the French originally owned this territory. Thomas Jefferson was president during this great exchange of land. Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore the undiscovered land. Lewis and Clark examined plants, animals, new people, and the geography to observe and document new benefits of the region. Their journals described over 180 plants and 125 animals.

In the Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, extensive incepts were pictured throughout the book. It also discusses how unique their journey was and how it truly transformed what was known in America during the time. The explorers begin telling inhabitants that this new land was recently purchased by the United States. Lewis and Clark left from St. Louis in 1804.

Thomas Jefferson has an important role in the growth that greatly affected the outcome of the Westward Expansion. His father, Peter, worked as a surveyor and mapmaker in Virginia. He grew up along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Jefferson noticed from a very young age that the land to the West was not just empty wilderness, but a land of many conflicts and new discoveries. Jefferson was hoping to build an “Empire of Liberty” (Source 3). Jefferson implements new policies that caused many Native Americans to become displaced from their homes. Jefferson’s goal as president was to extend the United States to its maximum boundaries.

Many people began noticing the works of Thomas Jefferson in regards to the Westward Expansion. Luther Ely Smith noticed how crucial Jefferson’s role truly was in the expansion. Smith attended Washington University School of Law. After serving in the Spanish-American War, Luther Ely Smith became a prominent St. Louis lawyer in the 1930’s. He saw how the Great Depression was affecting his once prospering hometown. This greatly saddened him as he watched his town fall apart. He wanted a way to revive the city and honor its roots in the Westward Expansion. He, then, noticed that Jefferson’s role should have been honored in some type of way. He knew a memorial was necessary, but died before a memorial could be finished entirely to commemorate the expansion.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to create the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Roosevelt reserved land along the St. Louis riverfront to build a monument to honor the expansion. The next step was to design the structure of the monument.

Influential architects now submitted entries for a competition to determine what form the memorial would take. A young Finnish architect named Eero Saarinen, was chosen as the winner. Saarinen noticed that the memorials with unique shapes stood out more. Saarinen wanted the monument to be made out of steel, because it was a modern and sleek design. The arch design would be used and would stand as a 630-foot memorial to serve as a lasting memorial to the city. The monument is the tallest in the United States.

In Building the Arch: The Improbable Dream by Lawrence W. Cheek, Cheek discusses how this design was truly “a work of a genius.” According to Cheek, over 171 entries were submitted and this unique design was chosen to represent the expansion (Source 4). The modern, sleek design of the arch increased the number of tourists who chose to visit St. Louis.

The Arch continues to have renovations changing to meet the needs of the current cultural landscape. The goal is to make the surrounding buildings more accommodating for visitors to the city and encouraging visitors to stay and enjoy the city. The Arch grounds have been expanded and renovated. The land surrounding the arch has been elevated to reduce flooding around the landmark that breaks down the material in the Arch and the area around it. There is also a new museum underneath the Arch.

Cooper Robertson, James Carpenter Design Associates, and Trivers Associates designed the addition. It tells the story of America’s Westward expansion from many different perspectives, which is necessary for our society today. Many new hotels and new tourism developments are being created near the Arch, making it easier for tourist to find accommodations. There was also a land bridge created over the interstate to make more parking options for visitors. The work on the new renovations has been approximately $380 million dollars. I had the privilege of interviewing Sharon Mertzlufft. She was involved with the collecting of the money for the improvements. Mertzlufft was the director of development for the City-Arch River 2015 Foundation. She had a goal to reach 250 million through private investors. She successfully achieved her goal. Overall, these changes and visitor accommodations have greatly affected the economy of the city of St. Louis (Source 5).

The improvements to the Arch and the surrounding area have affected the amount of tourists who have vacationed in St. Louis. The tourism number in the last couple of years, due to the improvements, has increased substantially. The land bridge created over the interstate allowed more parking options for visitors. These new features greatly affected the tourist who came to see the Arch. In the early 1900s, around 12,000 to 250,000 people came to visit this historical landmark. In 1967, the new renovations of the tram caused about 4.6 million people to come see the innovation. The annual average over the last 50 years has been approximately 2.6 million visitors per year. About seventy-percent of those visitors were from out of state.

These influxes of visitors was most likely due to the advancements in the museum and trams. With this increasing number of visitors, the Arch began taking in more money, benefitting the city. The neighboring businesses also benefit from the expansion of the Arch. According to the U. S. Geological Survey, the report showed that the $15.7 billion of direct spending by 298.8 million park visitors was spent in communities within 60 miles of the national park. In 2017, 1.4 million park visitors spent an estimated $136 million in local regions while visiting the Arch.

I also had the privilege of interviewing Lisa Young who stated that her grandfather was employed during the building of this historical landmark. Her grandfather worked for the Frisco Railroad. He would carry steel parts from the railcar to the Arch grounds for installation. Her grandfather described this building as an entire family coming together to complete one goal. Young remembered her grandfather’s hands distinctly. She said that his hand were full of scars from the steel that had cut him. His hands had never had time to heal, because he had to carry so much steel over his lifetime.

Everyone will have different experiences throughout their lives. The monument is the tallest in the United States. I remember sitting in Kirkwood and I could see the Arch. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Arch. This was my second time seeing the magnificent landmark in person. I remember visiting the Arch as I was a younger child. The comparison of the two visits were very different. My perspective from a young child to now was greatly varied. As a child, I found the tram system very interesting and just looking over the city was amazing.

The arch was an attraction not a landmark. As a young adult, I saw the history behind the monument far more interesting. I found it fascinating how it was created to celebrate Thomas Jefferson and the expansion. I have lived in St. Louis my entire life, and never knew the true meaning behind the Arch and the places that surround it. I felt, after I visited the monument, much more acquainted to my city. It was amazing to be at the top of the Arch and see the whole city beyond the skyline. It just put everything event in perspective and showed how beautiful our city truly is as well as the history that it represents.

Overall, the Arch has left a lasting effect on people around St. Louis and many aspects of our economy. The building of the Arch has enriched the history of St. Louis. The Louisiana Purchase granted us the land that millions of people call home today. Thomas Jefferson played a crucial role in the building of this masterpiece. Without the commissioning of Lewis and Clark, many animals and plants would have been undocumented to us today.

The interesting thing shown throughout many sources and tours was that the arch is still being changed for the better. The historians are trying to keep it preserved to keep the history of this monument and the events in history alive. The interviews that I completed showed me the personal side of the Arch. It showed me how the building of the Arch influenced the people around me. The opportunity to see the Arch once again was truly transforming. It shined a new perspective on the world. The Arch is an outstanding landmark that should be remembered through history for the positive impact, historical significance and energy radiated to the American people.

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