Museum of Westward Expansion Highlights Exploration West of the Mississippi River

St. Louis, Missouri is known as the ‘Gateway to the West’. Commemorated by the Gateway Arch, this riverfront city has been crowned as the entranceway to the western region of the United States.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a large park situated along the mighty Mississippi River in St. Louis. This park is home to the Gateway Arch, Westward Expansion Museum and the Old Courthouse. Each day thousands of visitors enjoy these historical landmarks and annual visitors exceed into the millions.

*Brief History

Construction of the Gateway Arch commenced in 1963 and the final memorial was finished in 1965. The first tram was opened to the public in 1967 so visitors could enjoy the view overlooking St. Louis, the Mississippi River and western Illinois. The Arch stands 630 feet tall.

While the Arch itself is impressive, it’s also interesting that an entire museum was built underneath the Arch. The Westward Expansion Museum is a great addition to the experience of visiting the Arch.

Located directly underneath the Arch, this large museum contains a large collection of westward expansion artifacts, interesting historical anecdotes, mounted animal specimens, an authentic American Indian tipi and an extensive recollection of the landmark Lewis and Clark Expedition which was summoned by President Thomas Jefferson and took place in 1803-1806.

*Museum Highlights

As you tour the exhibits located in the Westward Expansion Museum you can learn about the entire timeline for the period where the U.S. explored the lands west of the Mississippi. It begins with the Louisiana Purchase and ends with the closing of the frontier, which occurred in 1890.

The murals positioned all along the walls of the museum are beautiful. These scenes depict rapid rivers, snow covered fields, wildflower covered prairies and many other natural scenery that Lewis and Clark, and subsequent explorers and settlers, would have encountered in the 19th century.

This museum also contains a covered wagon, rare American Indian artifacts, weapons, maps, recounts of events, and the aforementioned authentic tipi. The museum has done a fabulous job preserving this aspect of early American history and visitors can enjoy seeing the exhibits to commemorate this part of America’s past.

*Educational and Fun

The museum is quite spacious and very kid-friendly. Animated characters come alive and illustrate history and life during the time of expansion. The covered wagon is typically a hit with children, and they enjoy seeing the animals and other neat items which are representative of life in those days. This museum is both entertaining and educational at the same time.

Additionally, those spectacular murals are perfect for photo ops. The kids have a blast role-playing as they shiver in a snow covered forest or work up a sweat pretending to chop wood along the side of the river. The exhibits offer a great occasion for children to tap into their creative imaginations and envision being a part of this historical era in U.S. history. A great souvenir to take home!

*Visitor Information

Entrance to the museum is free, so even if the history doesn’t enthrall you, it’s still worth a visit if you’re waiting for your turn to go up in the trams to get to the top of the Arch.

The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with exception for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Please note these are winter hours, and that during the summer months, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the museum has extended hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., so if your visit coincides with the busier season, you have a couple of extra hours to explore.