the saint louis gateway arch

On my second day of driving back across country from my Four Corners trip, I stopped to visit the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri. I had visited the Arch in 1979 with my first husband, but at that time I had never heard of the National Parks Passport, so I didn’t get a cancellation stamp. We had only stopped briefly, and we didn’t take the tram inside the Arch to the top, where we could see views of the city of St. Louis and the Mississippi River. On this day, I took the tram to the top and also got my cancellation stamp. 🙂

The Gateway Arch soars 630 feet in a graceful curve on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, with the city of St. Louis to the west. It stands on ground that was once the original village of St. Louis, founded in 1764.  By the 1840s, this spot was the center of a bustling riverfront district, where explorers, fur trappers and covered wagon pioneers readied themselves for their journey westward.


The Gateway Arch

The idea to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the western expansion of the United States was proposed in the 1930s but it took 30 years to complete. Hoping to revitalize an ugly and rundown waterfront, the idea was set in motion, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt creating the memorial by executive order in 1935.  The National Park Service was chosen to manage the memorial and to research the history of the site.  Between 1939 and 1942, 40 blocks of condemned buildings were razed.

In 1940, the city deeded the Old Courthouse, the historic building in which the Dred Scott case began (a case that pushed the nation closer to Civil War), to the National Park Service.  It was incorporated into the memorial.


Old Courthouse in St. Louis

Just as progress was being made, the nation became embroiled in World War II.  After the war, Luther Ely Smith, the prominent St. Louis attorney who had instigated the process of creating the memorial, raised money to fund an architectural contest, hoping for something “transcending in spiritual and aesthetic values” which would attract visitors from at home and abroad. The design by Eero Saarinen was selected, although none of the judges actually believed the Arch could be built.

After delays caused by the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill authorizing the memorial in 1954.  There were many challenges in building a 630-foot arch that could support two leaning legs up to the point where a keystone section could be inserted. You can read more information about the architecture here.

Before going up into the arch, I took a walk by the riverfront where one-hour riverboat cruises along the St. Louis downtown riverfront are available.


Riverboat Cruises on the Mississippi River

At 1:10 p.m., as per my timed entry ticket, I took the four-minute tram ride to the top of the Arch.  From the inside windows, the view stretches for miles east and west over metropolitan St. Louis, including the Mississippi River and Illinois. The observation room comfortably holds about 100 people.  On most days, no motion can be felt at the top, but when the wind picks up, the Arch gently sways several inches from side to side.  Engineers estimate that in a 150 mph wind, the arch will sway only 18″ at the top.  I felt a slight movement while I was up there.


view from the top of the Arch

The stability of the Arch arises naturally out of a few elegantly simply ideas. No inner frame or skeleton holds it up. It traces the lines of a “catenary” curve, the curve that an idealized hanging chain or cable assumes under its own weight when supported only at its ends.  This is a sound shape for a standing arch.  All the forces of thrust are kept in the center of the legs and transferred directly to the massive concrete foundations, which are sunk deeply into bedrock.


The Gateway Arch view from the river

The legs of the Arch are equilateral triangles, the most rigid geometric shape in nature. With a taper diminishing from 54 feet on a side at ground level to 17 feet at the top, the shape reduces wind loading and virtually eliminates stresses caused by oscillations.

After going to the top, I walk down by the riverfront and then all around the surrounding park.


Riverboat Cruises

I circle the Arch, getting closer to the Old Courthouse.


Old Courthouse in St. Louis

From this side, I see the base and the Arch looking the east toward the Mississippi River.


Gateway Arch from the Old Courthouse

The landscape around the Arch reflects the curvilinear nature of the structure. Curves define the entire landscape, from the gentle arc of tree-lined paths and staircases to the retaining walls and the flowing ribbons of the ponds edges.


Hyatt at north end of Gateway Arch National Park


serpentine ponds at the park


The Gateway Arch


Gateway Arch National Park

Of course, I got my sticker and cancellation stamp. 🙂


Gateway Arch sticker and cancellation stamp

*Thursday, May 24, 2018*

Steps: 9,609 (4.07 miles)

Below are photos of Bill and me during our 1979 trip to St. Louis and the Gateway Arch.


On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.

This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Boa Vista.