The Gateway to the West. Most people know little more about St. Louis than this nickname. Some people know it only as that "city with the arch." But below that arch lies a rich history and a thriving city. Ice cream cones, iced tea, Dr. Pepper, Budweiser, chocolates on your pillow in hotels; all of these things wouldn't exist without the historic city of St. Louis.
Long before Europeans landed in the New World, mound building Native American tribes settled all around the St. Louis area, making use of the mighty Mississippi from the 800's to the 1400's. In 1764, Louis XIV of France gave a land grant to Pierre Laclede Liguest, who, along with his 13-year-old scout Auguste Chouteau, discovered the St. Louis area and created a small fur trading settlement. The name St. Louis was chosen for the old king of France, Louis IX.
Over the next few centuries, St Louis was shuffled about. At first, the settlers were mostly French. After the Louisiana Rebellion of 1768, in 1770, the settlement was officially under Spanish control. In 1800, France tentatively regained control of the city and surrounding area when the Spanish government secretly returned the unprofitable Louisiana territory to France in October 1800 in the Treaty of San Ildefonso. France then sold the city to the US in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Local legend says that on March 8, 1804, St. Louis flew under three flags in one day--French, Spanish, and American.
Once under American control, St. Louis became the launching point for a very famous
expedition. The Lewis and Clark Expedition departed from St. Louis in May of 1804, as the city was the very eastern edge of the massive area purchased in the Louisiana Purchase, earning it the nickname "Gateway to the West." After Lewis and Clark returned two years later, and the western frontier was opened to Americans, St. Louis became the gateway for all of the mountain men and trappers heading West
St. Louis is home to one of the most important cases ever tried in its Old Courthouse, which lasted from 1847 to 1857. Dred Scott, a slave filed a suit for his freedom in 1847, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to take the case into their hands. His reasoning behind him fighting for his freedom alongside his wife, Harriet Robinson was because their petitions claiming they were both free, which was based on a previous case "Winny v. Whitesides that brought the phrase "once free, always free" along with it. Sadly, the first trial in 1847 was disregarded on technicality because Dred Scott was unable to prove he and Harriet were owned by Mrs. Emerson who was their owner after the death of John Emerson, the husband of Mrs. Emerson. The case continued on for 10 years and in the end it was decided that because Dred Scott was black, he was therefore not a citizen and thus unable to sue. Aside from all of this, the decision declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional, in that slavery could be restricted in certain areas.
Almost exactly a century after Lewis and Clark's departure, on April 30, 1904, St Louis held the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, informally known as the St. Louis World's Fair. Over the 19th century, St. Louis had grown into an important center of commerce and trade, attracting thousands of immigrants eager to find a new life on the edge of the frontier. As the fourth largest city in the nation at the time, it was a thriving backdrop for the lively fair. Here at the World Fair, ice cream cones, ice tea, and Dr. Pepper were first introduced (St. Louis says "You're welcome"). More than 20 million people visited the fair during its seven-month run. In conjunction with the fair the 1904 Olympic games were held in St. Louis. These games were first ever US based Olympics, and the third international Olympics.
St Louis once again stepped into the national spotlight in 1927, when local businessmen provided the financial backing for Charles Lindbergh's famous flight across the Atlantic. Their support earned the right for their city's name to fly across the Atlantic, written on the side of the plane. "The Spirit of St. Louis" carried Lindbergh 3,600 miles in 33 hours. Aviation continued
to play a major role in St. Louis, and it even provided a launching pad for the McDonnell Space Program.
A year after Charles Lindbergh's flight, on April 4, 1928, Marguerite Annie Johnson. An author, actress, screenwriter, dancer and poet, Marguerite would go on to write several poems to be revered worldwide, and work as a civil rights activist. Marguerite, better known as Maya Angelou, wrote such historically relevant poems as "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," and "On the Pulse of Morning."
However much you know about St. Louis, you will likely know this: it's the city with the arch. The Gateway Arch stands 630 feet tall, towering above all other buildings in the city from, rising above the banks of the Mississippi. But why is the arch there? The arch was built in 1965 as monument to Thomas Jefferson, who bought the Louisiana Territory in the Louisiana Purchase and made Westward Expansion possible, and all those pioneers for whom St. Louis was the Gateway to the West. The arch stands as a testament to the rich history of expansion and exploration that is so ingrained in the story of our country.
From french fur traders, to western expansion, to historic court cases, to fairs, to Olympics, to flying across the Atlantic, to a towering arch, St. Louis's history stretches back almost three hundred year. And with that much history, you can bet there is a whole lot of culture.
St. Louis is infused with a culture of blues. As the crossroads for the entire country, forms of the blues migrated north from their birthplace in Mississippi Delta, they melded with the ragtime strains popular in St. Louis at the time and the result is what's known as the St. Louis blue. Over the years, music icons like Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Ike & Tina Turner, Albert King, and Little Milton would hone their craft in St. Louis. Now, the city has countless blues clubs, and blues diners, where anyone can enjoy the live sound of St. Louis blues.
When it comes to food, St. Louis has their specialties. Toasted ravioli, gooey-butter cake, and provel cheese are all St. Louis favorites, and locals just can't understand why they aren't loved everywhere in the country. Root beer is another local favorite, and specifically Fitz's root beer, a restaurant and microbrewery within the city that is the hub for the regional brand.
It may not seem it, but the very river it sits beside is part of the culture of St. Louis. T.S. Eliot, born in St. Louis in 1896, once wrote, "It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done. I feel that there is something in having passed one's childhood beside the big river, which is incommunicable to those people who have not. I consider myself fortunate to have been born here, rather than in Boston, or New York, or London."