Standing 630 feet tall, The Gateway Arch (or The Arch) is not only a St. Louis icon, but a national icon. It was erected to symbolize the westward expansion of our country that came during and after the Lewis & Clark Expedition. After a nation wide competition was held in the late 40's, an architect by the name of Eero Saarinen was chosen to build our stainless steel beauty on the St. Louis Riverfront as a gateway beckoning people to travel west over the Mississippi River and into the opportunities offered by the newer states of the union.
The construction on the Arch began in August of 1963 and was completed in just a little over two years time in October of 1965. The foundations of the Arch are sunk into the ground 60 feet. It is built to withstand earthquakes and high winds. There are 142 sections to the Arch. There are 630 feet between the outer edges of each leg. It is built of concrete and steel, with stainless steel being the outer covering. The legs are 54 feet wide at their bases and the top is 17 feet wide.
When you travel up into the Arch, you take one of two trams. Each car of a tram holds about 5 people. They are egg shaped and travel about 3 miles an hour. The observation deck of the Arch is 7' 2" feet wide, 65' long and 6' 9" tall. There are 16 observation windows on each side of the Arch. They are made of 3/4 inch plate glass and are 7" x 27".
The Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which is a park in our national parks system. It not only includes the Arch, but the Museum of Westward Expansion (located under the Arch) and the Old Courthouse. The Old Courthouse is across highway 70 and can be seen from the observation windows of The Arch.
When you are on the observation deck of the Arch you can see 30 miles in all directions. This offers great views of Downtown St. Louis and it's surrounding area. You can also see down the legs of the Arch and the grounds below.
When you enter the Arch, you enter the base and what is the lobby of not only the Arch itself, but the Museum of Westward Expansion which is free to visit. There are also two small shops off the lobby. One is set up like an old fashioned general store and the other is just a modern touristy gift shop. The Museum of Westward Expansion depicts the progress of our nation's west from wilderness to developed cities.
It is very easy to spend most of a day exploring The Arch, The Museum of Westward Expansion and The Old Courthouse. And if those do not take up all your allotted time, there are riverboat cruises, helicopter rides, and Laclede's Landing to explore all within walking distance. It really is an amazing way to get into some of the culture of our nation and to spend some relaxation time.