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Gateway Arch Development

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Gabe Bohler

Standing at 630 feet, the Gateway Arch transcends all other memorials in its way. The Arch's superior height allowed for travelers to see, even from a great distance, that they were approaching the "Gateway to the West" which is how the Arch got it's name. Pierre Laclede established a bartering station in 1764 at the exact same location on which the Arch now stands. Located in St. Louis, Missouri, the arch was built for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Eero Saarinen, the architect of the arch, was born in Finland and the son of an art school dean. Saarinen won the memorial's design contest and helped make his design into reality. Not only is it a beautiful piece of art, it has a rich history behind it. This masterpiece symbolizes the westward expansion that took place to get the land we now have in our country. As you may know, through this process, many Native Americans were forced into reservations and tribes were destroyed. However, if the expansion never happened, we would not have the grand country we live currently live in. Although westward expansion is often distinguished as being cruel and unjust to the indigenous people, the Gateway arch symbolizes the importance and glory of the progressive expansion.

Around late 1933, civic leader Luther Ely Smith, returning to St. Louis from Indiana, saw the St. Louis riverside area and visualized a memorial there which would stimulate the economy. He proposed his idea to the city mayor who in turn brought it up in a meeting with other city officials. They approved the proposal, which resulted in Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association being created. Smith was appointed chairman and the association's goal was to create: "A suitable and permanent public memorial to the men who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States, particularly President Jefferson, his aides Livingston and Monroe, the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, and the hardy hunters, trappers, frontiersmen and pioneers who contributed to the territorial expansion and development of these United States, and thereby to bring before the public of this and future generations the history of our development and induce familiarity with the patriotic accomplishments of these great builders of our country." Many locals did not agree with the idea of depleting public funds for the cause and even Smiths own daughter related saying "the people need more practical things" but he would fire back that "spiritual things" were of equal importance. The association estimated that $30 million would be required to get the project in motion, with the U.S government footing $22.5 million of the total cost. The proposition to give the riverside a makeover was not new, with earlier projects surfacing during the economic downturn brought about by the Great Depression.

On December 21, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed off on an executive order to put the project in motion, which would set aside 82 acres for the first National Historic Site. The motivation of the project was twofold-commemorating westward expansion and creating jobs however, not all taxpayers were onboard with the project that many called a "boondoggle". After an intense competition to see who would be designing the Arch, Saarinen's team was picked for best design. His team worked to perfect their design and on September 1, 1947, they submitted as the first stage to the jury. By January 1951, Saarinen proposed 21 sketches, which included scale pictures of the attractions near the Arch itself. In 1959 and 1960, the foundation for the monument was beginning to be laid and by the next year, the structural components were being added. Finally, by January 22, 1962, after the previous meeting was postponed, the bidding meeting commenced with over 50 companies attending the event. Initial building of the Arch started the next year in 1963 and was finally completed in 1965, two years later.

As the country grew and expanded, the American people where always one to push their bounds. In 1763, we proudly, defied England's proclamation of the year, and settled west of the Appalachian mountains. A little later, the westward people pushed Indians, animals, and society to a place where no American person had gone before. But all the while, one important factor determined where they transported themselves, where they settled, and what they did when they got there. This factor, the environment, profoundly affected the settlers way of life, and other factors, such as the Indians and the railroad, only aggravated a pre-existing condition. The settlers of the late 1800's had only one way to get to the west- along the pre-existing routes established by the courier-de-bois, Spanish settlers, and the Indians of the past. These routes, which flowed through the only passable areas of the Rockies, naturally led to Oregon and California, which caused an increase in the population of these regions at the time. On the home front, the environment played an important role on the family life as well. With an increased sense of independence, women had gained rights to vote and proprietorship. But with this increased sense of independence came the added responsibility of being the family doctor, chef, and provider of family comfort and support.

Although westward expansion can be seen as positive, it also had many negative effects including war, slavery, and the suffering of many Native Americans. Starting with the French and Indian War, the United States, or in that time, the colonies, has always encroached on the Native Americans. This war was only the start to many others which brought about suffering to the Native Americans and American people. During the American conquest of the west, Natives were for often forced into slavery when a tribe was attacked and defeated. Steps for peace were thought to be made by the American government to relocate the Native Americans into smaller reservations. These reservations were too small to hold the huge tribes and the soil was unfertile to plant food to last for a while. For example, the Trail of Tears relocated around 4000 Cherokees into a reservation in Oklahoma. Throughout the journey, many Native Americans died due to harsh conditions. This is seen as a cruel punishment but it was meant for good. If this expansion never happened, the United States wouldn't have the land and greatness we now have. Although it was often cruel and unjust, which could have been made easier and less harsh, it was needed in order to expand the country to fit the population of the rising US. Due to this expansion, the Gateway Arch symbolizing it and its greatness may be disliked by many Native Americans today. Building a monument for the enlargement into the west can however, help everyone appreciate the expansion and the importance it had to our country.

Rising above all other monuments, there is a reason why the Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the country. Perfectly placed in St. Louis, Missouri on the Mississippi river, the arch can be seen by anyone in the area or if they are visiting the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial for which the arch was made for. The Arch represents the westward expansion and most things that were involved with it. Native Americans were treated badly during the expansion but our country wouldn't be what it now is today without it. Although westward expansion is often distinguished as being cruel and unjust to the indigenous people, the Gateway arch symbolizes the importance and glory of the progressive expansion.


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