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THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
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Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

St. Louis, downtown.

This memorial celebrates the vision of President Thomas Jefferson, architect of westward expansion, as well as all aspects of that vital national movement.

St. Louis, "gateway to the West," was founded in 1764 by Frenchmen from New Orleans. It evolved into a center of French culture and Spanish governmental control. In 1803 the United States acquired it from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase, consummated during Jefferson's administration.

For many decades thereafter, the city was a key one on the western U.S. frontier. Conveniently located in relation to the mouths of the Ohio, Missouri, and other Mississippi tributaries, it became the hub of midcontinental commerce, transportation, and culture—the place where East met West and point of departure for the wilderness beyond. A base of operations for traders, travelers, scientists, explorers, military leaders, Indian agents, and missionaries, it was also headquarters of the western fur trade and focus of scientific and political thought in the West.

Along the waterfront, hulking steamboats from the East and South met the smaller river boats that served the frontier communities and outposts on the upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. At this major transfer point, a small but teeming city, mercantile establishments, boatyards, saloons, and lodginghouses accommodated and supplied the westbound settlers and other frontiersmen who congregated there before setting out across the Plains to Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and other points.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. (National Park Service.)

To dramatize westward expansion and the rich cultural, political, and economic benefits that accrued to the Nation from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the National Park Service and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, a nonprofit organization of public-spirited citizens, have undertaken an extensive development program for the memorial. As part of a broad urban renewal program, obsolescent industrial buildings occupying about 40 city blocks have been cleared away.

The dominant feature of the memorial—on the west bank of the Mississippi on the site of the original village of St. Louis—is a 630-foot-high stainless steel arch, designed by the noted architect Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965. It symbolizes the historic position of St. Louis as gateway to the West. A special elevator system carries visitors to an observatory at the top. Scaled to the heroic dimensions of such other structures as the Washington Monument, Eiffel Tower, and Statue of Liberty, the Gateway Arch ranks with them in size and grandeur.

A Museum of Westward Expansion, which is beneath the arch, presents the story of our western heritage in new dimensions.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004