Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The St. Louis Arch

By Nancy J. Farrier


Night view of Gateway Arch

In the 1800’s, St. Louis was a hub for westward expansion. People gathered in St. Louis to buy supplies, wagons, and to join a train heading for Oregon or California. The city became a symbol of those who wanted to travel west for a new start.


View of Gateway Arch National Park

Luther Ely Smith, a lawyer, was traveling home to St. Louis from Indiana by train in 1933. He’d just visited the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Indiana. When St. Louis came into view, he wondered about having a memorial that would symbolize all his beloved city stood for, something people could see and love. Smith and Mayor Bernard Dickmann worked together to start the Jeffereson National Expansion Memorial Association. (JNEMA) Smith then traveled to Washington where he met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who embraced the project. They turned the memorial into a national project in 1935 by presidential proclamation.


For several years the project was on hold, possibly due to the depression and then WWII. In 1947, the call was put out to architects, engineers, artists, and designers who were interested in the project to submit their designs. A complete booklet was sent out with the history of the area, the ground rules for the contest, the criteria that must be met, and information on how to submit their design idea.


Model for the Gateway Arch Park
The booklet included this statement: “The purpose of the Memorial is not only to commemorate the past but also, and especially, to keep alive in the present and in the future the daring and untrammeled spirit that inspired Thomas Jefferson and his aides to offer men of all nations new opportunities under democracy by consummating the Louisiana Purchase, the spirit that moved pioneers and heroes of thought and action from all the world to press westward with a constructive energy and courage scarcely equaled in history; the spirit that conceived and made possible the territorial integrity and national greatness of the United States of America.


Eero Saarinen

There were many talented teams that presented ideas for both the park and the monument. Eero Saarinen and his team won the contest with their arch and the park that carried the arch theme throughout the park. His team was rounded out with sculptor Lilian Swann Saarinen, Eero’s wife, landscape architect Dan Kiley, draftsman J. Henderson Barr, and artist Alexander Girard. This was the core team, although the project involved many more skilled people.


Gateway Arch Under Construction
Saarinen designed the Arch similar to the shape of a chain or a catenary curve. A catenary curve is the shape of a chain when the ends hang free. The Arch would be a slightly flattened version of this curve. The larger, heavier links would be on the ends with the smaller lighter links in the middle.


Although the design was approved in 1948, the actual construction of the Arch did not begin until 1963. The arch is 630 feet tall and the distance between the legs is the same as the height. The Arch was completed in 1965. There are two trams inside that take visitors to the viewing platform at the top of the Arch.

Night view of Mississippi from Gateway Park

A sad note is that Eero Saarinen died in 1961 and did not get to see the completed Arch. His design is amazing as it overlooks the Mississippi River. The accompanying park is a delight to walk through with the curved paths that reflect the design of the Arch. 


Have you ever visited the Arch in St. Louis? Have you taken the tram to the viewing platform? It’s a beautiful place for a walk and the museum has a lot of excellent information. 


Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.


  1. Thanks for posting today! I love that the blog lets me travel to places I will most likely not see in real life. The arch is beautiful! It's always sad when the creator of such a beautiful thing doesn't get to see it fulfilled.

  2. Interesting post! Visiting the arch is on my bucket list, although being terrified of heights I'm not sure I'll make it to the top.

  3. Hi Nancy! I have to visit the arch anytime I go to St. Louis, it is just a very cool place! I have been up to the top several times. I love the grounds around it too, all that green space to walk around in. Thanks for posting about it!