Have you seen the recently-expanded Gateway Arch?
At the newly expanded Gateway Arch museum below the majestic monument, visitors connect with more than 200 years of Missouri history. Opening to the public July 3, admission to the museum is free, but Tram Ride to the Top and the documentary Monument to the Dream require tickets costing $13 for adults 16 and older and $10 for children 3-15.
A public-private partnership brought together groups representing the City of St. Louis, the Gateway Arch, and the Mississippi River. Commonly known as CityArchRiver, members developed a vision and plan to enhance the tourist experience. A large parking garage, while convenient for the Arch, separated historic Laclede’s Landing from good views of the Arch itself. A highway severed easy access between the Arch and the historic Old Courthouse.
CityArchRiver solved those problems and replaced obstructed views with open green space. The group also preserved more of the St. Louis story with more museum exhibit space and an inviting entry. In six distinct sections, museum curators share St. Louis’s history from the 18th century through construction of the Arch in the 20th.
More Space and More Light
The original Gateway Arch museum was permanently in the shadows as it was underground. The revitalized museum includes an above-ground glass façade allowing natural light to pour in and work with newly installed, extensive overhead lighting inside. Spotlights shine for individual exhibits so that reading text or examining details closely is easy.
The original museum was also small, about half the size it now is. Today’s museum is nearly 150,000 square feet of exhibit and event space with an expanded retail store, café, and a new entrance facing west. Renovations included a more inviting plaza at the entrance where a shallow pool allows children to splash while parents wait in line. The new approach also offers shade protection from the hot, summer sun.
An open floor plan and terraced pathways inside and out make the museum accessible and comfortable for large numbers in attendance and for guests using wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Audio narration and tactile exhibits are available for hearing and visually impaired patrons. Children will also enjoy being able to touch some displays.
A wading pool and beautiful landscaping grace the grounds outside the Gateway Arch museum. Inside, tourists will begin in an open lobby with a terrazzo floor showing a map of North American rivers and trails. The lobby doubles as event space.
Colonial St. Louis
Europeans began to trade and settle along the western shore of the Mississippi River as early as 1699. They developed friendships with the Osage and other Native tribes. Settlers also built a thriving fur trade using dug out canoes as the indigenous people did. Visitors to the Gateway Arch Museum can pose near such a canoe in front of a panoramic image of the river to create a personalized souvenir of their visit to the Arch.
One special feature in this portion of the museum is a full-sized French Colonial home constructed on site, using materials that would have been used in the mid to late 18th century. Then, boards with a vertical orientation were “planted” five feet deep into ground, a construction method that provided stability and longevity. Arch Historian Bob Moore reports similar homes dating from this period still stand in Missouri.
Early in the 18th century, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark to explore, map, and report about the large land expansion acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. Upon completion of that mission, William Clark settled in the St. Louis area where he crafted treaties with Native tribes. This portion of the Gateway Arch museum features several tactile exhibits as well as the tools and equipment used by cartographers and explorers. A sculpture representing Jefferson takes center stage.
By the early decades of the 19th century, the nation believed in its own Manifest Destiny to dominate and use natural resources. People began to push across the Western frontier, often beginning their journey in St. Louis where merchants sold Prairie Schooners, teams to pull the wagons, and supplies. At the Gateway Arch museum, a reconstructed schooner is on display inside the Old Rock House, once a vital riverfront building dating from 1818. Displaced, the building was disassembled, but some stones, all windows, and all shutters were saved. In recent years, those salvaged materials were stored in the basement of the Old Courthouse. Now they have new purpose inside the Gateway Arch museum as an example of riverfront construction from the period.
The Riverfront Era
Many frontiersmen and women used steamboats to transfer themselves and their belongings west so a section of the expanded Gateway Arch museum features watercraft and steamboats working the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. A scale model of the St. Louis levee in 1852 proves how busy the port of St. Louis was.
In the New Frontiers section of the Gateway Arch museum, curators designed exhibits to explain shifts in territorial ownership and perspectives as settlers pressed for more land and supremacy while Native tribes strove to find a place for their way of life. National conflicts with Mexico and other regions of the new nation challenged ownerships, too.
New Frontiers, the fifth section of the museum, also includes movie posters to shine lights on the many myths and stories the nation told itself about settling the nation and turning the land to the best use.
One other change during these years came about as railcars replaced steamboats. A mockup of the last railcar often used by political candidates for campaign stump speeches and photos is in place for another personalized souvenir, a family “selfie” to accompany the one taken beside a dugout canoe from the Colonial era.
Intellectuals and political leaders shape history while the rest of the population lives it. In each of the six sections of the renovated Gateway Arch museum, tourists will find four “cameos” about ordinary citizens. One of those cameos remembers an eight-year-old girl, Samantha Packwood, who rode the entire Oregon trail on a mule. Her sidesaddle is part of the museum’s collection and displayed near the poster about Samantha. From that poster, guests also learn what the trek meant to Samantha’s sister who remembered nothing about hardship. Instead she remembered the beautiful vistas stretching before her.
The Gateway Arch
The first incarnation of the Arch museum did not feature information about the Gateway Arch itself. Today’s museum does and includes models of Architect Eero Saarinen’s original idea from 1948. However, construction did not begin until 1962 as a result of the Korean War’s effect on federal funding, but the dream for a monument to the American frontier spirit did not fade over time. The Arch stands today 630 feet high, a remarkable testament to ingenuity and imagination. More than 135 million people have visited this amazing architectural achievement. It continues to inspire people as the promise of homes west of the Mississippi once did.