When you visit Gateway Arch National Park, you’re no doubt wowed by seeing the height and majesty of America’s tallest monument. And you probably also can’t wait to take a tram ride to the top. But there are plenty of cool things to experience down below on the ground level of the visitor center, like the Museum at the Gateway Arch. That’s where you can learn what America’s westward expansion was like through the eyes of explorers and pioneers, Native Americans and enslaved individuals, and women and children. You can also learn the stories of the founding of St. Louis and see unique artifacts and displays that commemorate the pioneering spirit.
In 2018, the Museum at the Gateway Arch underwent a major renovation. A key factor in this renovation was increased inclusivity in how visitors physically interact with the galleries and with the stories told in the exhibits. The galleries within the museum now tell the city’s history through the eyes of the various cultures involved, encouraging visitors to think about other perspectives.
The museum is composed of six interactive galleries that detail more than 200 years of American history. Early St. Louis history will come alive in the Colonial St. Louis gallery as you take in artifacts from the region’s early French colonial inhabitants, including a full-sized vertical log house. You’ll also learn about the Indigenous and Creole cultures of St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase.
Jefferson’s Vision focuses on the Lewis and Clark expedition, which set the stage for the opening of the American West to settlers from all parts of 19th century society. Examine the discoveries from the explorers’ adventures, see the tools they used, and learn about the ongoing struggle among nations for supremacy in North America.
By the mid-1800s, many Americans believed their country had a God-given right to expand its borders throughout the continent. In Manifest Destiny you can examine the clash of cultures as settlers moved west, including the Indigenous inhabitants and the Mexican government.
The Riverfront Era gallery traces the evolution of St. Louis as steamboats began to arrive on its riverbanks. By the mid-19th century, the city had truly earned its title as Gateway to the West as the levee bustled with dozens of riverboats carrying goods and people to other parts of the United States. The highlight of this gallery is an intricate scale model of the St. Louis riverfront that changes from day to night before your eyes.
In New Frontiers you can explore what it was like to live in the American West. See an authentic buffalo-hide tipi as you learn about the very different lifestyles of European settlers and Native Americans.
If you’re wowed by the design of the Gateway Arch, you’ll want to spend time in the Building the Dream gallery. There you can examine the various concepts that architects submitted to anchor the new national monument to westward expansion and see the details of Eero Saarinen’s award-winning design. Also discover the innovative builders who constructed the Arch.
The new Arch Museum is only part of park partners’ plans for restoring, maintaining and enhancing the national park. There is also a new entrance to the Arch, improvements to the 90-acre grounds, and new interior amenities like The Arch Store and the Arch Café. Additional renovations have begun at the Old Courthouse and are expected to be completed in the next few years.
Be sure to visit to see all that’s new at the Arch!
Featured Image Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation