St. Louis

The area around the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was first settled by Indian mound building tribes in the 9th century.  Robert de La Salle’s 1682 trip down the Mississippi was followed by other French explorers, but no settlement was established in the area during the years of French rule. In 1764, two years after Spain took control, French born fur traders Pierre Laclede and 13 year old Auguste Chouteau travelled upriver from New Orleans to find a suitable site from which to trade with Indians in the fur-rich lands to the west of the river. They founded a settlement 26 kilometres (16 miles) south of the confluence which they named it St. Louis after French King Louis IX. St. Louis grew fast as a fur trading centre and by the time Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804 to start their expedition, it was home to over 1,000 people. After Lewis and Clark returned, St. Louis became the gateway for mountain men and trappers heading to the newly opened frontier. Events in St. Louis provided one of the flashpoints that led to the Civil War. Slaves Dred and Harriet Scott should have been freed when living with their owners in free states.  After being moved to St. Louis, Dred and Harriet attempted to gain their freedom through the courts. The case ended up in the Supreme Court which ruled in 1857 that slaves and their descendants were not protected by the Constitution and were not US citizens, hence they could not take court action. The Dred Scott Decision caused uproar in free states and helped to launch Abraham Lincoln on the national political stage.





St Louis from  Cahokia Mounds SHS, Illinois

The mound building tribes disappeared from this area during Europe’s Middle Ages leaving their huge and mysterious earthen structures as a very visible reminder of their presence. In its early days there were a number of mounds in St. Louis, enough for it to be given the nickname ‘Mound City’. Most of the mounds in the city have been lost due to the ever increasing development of St. Louis, but fortunately there are still some big mounds on the other side of the Mississippi in Illinois. The massive Monks Mound provides a superb panorama of St. Louis with the Gateway Arch on the left and downtown skyscrapers in the centre.  

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St. Louis Cathedral

The foundation of St. Louis as a French settlement in Spanish controlled territory meant that in its earliest days Catholicism was the predominant religion. Pierre Laclede set aside a square just west of his home for a church and graveyard. A small log cabin was built on the site in 1770 to serve as the first Catholic Church. In 1826 St. Louis became a Diocese and five years later the cornerstone was laid of the first Cathedral west of the Mississippi. Plans for a larger cathedral in the west of the city were first considered in the 1870s but it was not until 1907 that work commenced on the new Romanesque style cathedral. The incomplete building was dedicated in 1914, inheriting the status of Cathedral from the Old Cathedral that still stands on the banks of the Mississippi. The building was not ready for full consecration until 1926 and work on the intricate interior mosaics continued until 1988. The mosaics tell the story of the faith and are made from more than 41 million glass tesserae tiles with around eight thousand shades of colour. In 1997 St. Louis Cathedral was designated a Basilica by Pope John Paul II. Click Tab 2 to see the elaborately decorated interior.

Old Courthouse

In 1816 St. Louis co-founder Auguste Chouteau and Judge John Lucas donated land for a courthouse. A Federal style courthouse was completed in 1828, but St. Louis was growing fast at this time and within 10 years that courthouse had become too small. The cornerstone of a new courthouse was laid in 1839 and the original courthouse became its east wing. The first two trials of the Dred Scott case where held in the courthouse in 1847 and 1850. Major reconstruction took place in the 1850s with both east (the original courthouse) and west wings demolished and replaced. The dome was replaced with one based on the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Come 1930 the courthouse had again become too small so  a new Civil Courts Building was built a few blocks to the west. The old courthouse was used as an art school and as a workshop by a religious organisation. In 1935 St. Louis raised funds to establish the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in the area around the old courthouse. In 1940 Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was declared a National Monument and the old courthouse was incorporated into it. The National Park Service took control and renovated it. The Old Courthouse now houses museum exhibits and two restored courtrooms.  Click Tab 2 to see a Courtroom.


- Nice city in a nice location. We need to go back to explore more of it.
- The interior decorations in St. Louis Cathedral.
- Over zealous security at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park. There is no need to have security at a tourist attraction that is tighter than at an airport .
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Home > US States > Midwest > Missouri

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City Hall & Laclede statue, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

City Hall, St. Louis

In front of City Hall is a statue of one of the founders of St. Louis, Pierre Laclede.  Although the area was controlled by Spain in 1784, St. Louis was founded as a French settlement with street names such as Rue d'Eglise. Despite many other nationalities settling in St. Louis the French flavour survived until the city became American as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Unlike New Orleans,  you now have to look quite hard to see evidence of the French heritage. One of the few buildings with a French flavour is City Hall which was designed by the architectural firm of Eckel & Mann using the City Hall in Paris as their inspiration. The building was designed in 1890 but was not completed until 1904, just in time for the St. Louis World's Fair.



St Louis (MO) from Monks Mound, Cahokia Mounds SHS, IL, USA
Old Courthouse from Hyatt Regency, St Louis, MO, USA
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 St. Louis Cathedral, St Louis, MO, USA
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Covered Wagon, Museum of Westward Expansion

Underneath the Gateway Arch is a museum that tells the story of the  19th century expansion of the United States from the Mississippi River westwards to the Pacific Ocean. The Museum of Westward Expansion is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It is not easy to spot the museum because it is underground and you enter it down a ramp and then have to go through security tighter than we have encountered at any airport. This picture shows an example of the covered wagons used by many of the settlers to take them and their belongings to their new home in the west.


Covered Wagon, Museum of Westward Expansion, St Louis, MO, USA
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