Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunday in St. Louis

Greetings from St. Louis, the "Gateway to the West." I'm here doing research at the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center for my book, but even historians need a break to do some site seeing! I was particularly excited to visit Cahokia and the Gateway Arch, so I thought I'd share some of my photos with you.

The Mounds of Cahokia
The Cahokia Mounds are what survive of a major metropolis that grew up and thrived from 900 to 1200 in the heart of the American Bottom, the flood plain region of the Mississippi. There were many mounds builders who constructed massive earthworks, and the largest can be found here. At its height, scholars estimate, Cahokia was home to close to 30,000 people. It was a major center of trade, served by networks that reached either end of the great Mississippi. While scholars don't know why Cahokia was abandoned, they suspect it may have had to do in part with the devastation that much a large urban center ultimately had on the surrounding environment.  To learn more, check out Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy Pauketat.

Ridge and conical mounds, like this, were constructed over burial sites or used to marked significant locations.

The largest earth work in North America is Monks Mound, so named for the French monks who lived there and farmed its terraces from 1809-1813. Monks Mound was not a burial site, but probably a site used for ritual purposes.

A view of St. Louis from the top of Monks Mound.

St. Louis: Finding 19th-Century St. Louis -- Today
In one of the more evocative juxtapositions in the city, the Old Court House where the slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom in 1847 sits below the Gateway Arch. There's a great permanent exhibit there about the Dred Scott case, but I'll spare you my photos while insisting that you pay a visit yourselves one day!

The Mississippi still gets commercial boat traffic, but in its heyday in the 1840s, steamboats crowded the riverfront. With the advent of the railroads in the 1860s, St. Louis struggled to retain its importance as a center of trade and migration. The construction of the St. Louis or Ead's Bridge attempted to restore the prospects of a city that had seen its heyday during the 1840s, the era of the steamboat. Compare this 1852 daguerreotype by Thomas Easterly with my "digitaltypes" of the riverfront today.
Thomas Easterly, 1852. From
The riverfront today.
Commercial traffic on the Mississippi, as seen from the top (!) of the Gateway Arch.

Ead's Bridge, built in 1867-1872, was the first steel-construction bridge and the first bridge to span the lower Mississippi.

From the top of the Gateway Arch, looking across the Mississippi to Illinois.
Eero Saarinen's majestic Gateway Arch, truly one of the most beautiful monuments in this country. Built 1963-1965.

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