Your Most Pressing St. Louis Questions Answered

By Johanna Read; Updated September 26, 2017

Meet Me in St. Louis

Your Most Pressing St. Louis Questions Answered

St. Louis, where the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers meet, is the ideal place for a family holiday. The city is full of free things to do and has an important history as the Gateway to the American West.

Q: How is the weather in St. Louis, Missouri?

A: The city has warm summers with temperatures reaching the high 80s and cool winters with lows below freezing from December to February. Two to four inches of precipitation fall each month as rain or sometimes snow.

Q: How old is St. Louis?

A: St. Louis began as a fur-trading post starting in 1764. A village was under construction the next year. The city became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, the same year Lewis and Clark departed St. Louis for their explorations westward. St. Louis became an incorporated city in 1823.

Q: Who discovered St. Louis?

A: French fur traders Pierre Laclede Liguest and Auguste Chouteau selected the area as the site of the fur trading post and named it after King Louis IX of France. Indigenous peoples, such as the Osage, discovered the site much earlier since it was near the confluence of two rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri, and because the area was not prone to flooding.

Q: What is the St. Louis Arch for?

A: The Gateway Arch symbolizes the westward expansion of the United States and is a monument to President Thomas Jefferson and his vision for the country to spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, and to the pioneers and explorers who brought that vision to reality.

Q: Why was the St. Louis Gateway Arch built?

A: The Arch was built not only as a memorial to President Jefferson and to commemorate the westward expansion, but also to revitalize St. Louis’ downtown riverfront. A nationwide competition was held for the design of the monument, and architect Eero Saarinen won.

Q: How old is the St. Louis Arch?

A: The 630-foot-tall arch, made of stainless steel, was completed in 1965. The Arch’s keystone was placed on October 28, 1965 and ground was broken on June 23, 1959.

Q: Does the St. Louis Arch have an elevator?

A: The Gateway Arch does have an elevator, but it, and the 1,076-step stairwell, are used only for maintenance and emergencies. Instead, the Arch has a tram system to take visitors to the top. Each capsule travels 340 feet per minute. The north tram opened in 1967 and, a year later, the south tram became operational, too. When both trams are running, 480 people can go to the top of the Arch every hour, with a capsule leaving every five minutes.

Q: What is there to do in St. Louis?

A: St. Louis is an important part of American history, and has lots of historical sites to explore.

Start with a ride up the Gateway Arch. The area around it was recently refurbished to better connect the monument to the city and riverfront. After exploring Gateway Arch National Park, also called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and the new museum and visitor center, check out:

  • The Old Courthouse: Now connected to the Arch grounds via the Park Over the Highway, this building has a dome modeled after Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. The interior of the dome has historic murals of St. Louis by Carl Wimar. A critical event leading to the Civil War took place at the Courthouse – the Dred Scott slavery trials and the fight for women’s right to vote.
  • Citygarden: This 2.9-acre park is also called the Gateway Mall, as it leads westward perpendicular from the Gateway Arch park. Citygarden contains rain gardens, a pool with waterfall, and a kids’ spray park, as well as the Serra Sculpture Park which has sculptures large and small, including some which visitors can walk inside.

When in St. Louis, don’t miss these sites, called the Treasures of St. Louis, four of which have free admission:

  • St. Louis Zoo: Containing more than 17,000 animals, this 90-acre zoo has free general admission, though there are separate fees for attractions like the sea lion show and the carousel. A rare black rhinoceros named Moyo (meaning heart in Swahili) was born at the zoo on May 17, 2017. The zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
  • Missouri History Museum: Taking visitors through the area’s history from 1764 to today, this free-admission museum includes an exhibit on the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis and an interactive gallery aimed at kids called the History Clubhouse.
  • St. Louis Art Museum: Within this free museum are over 33,000 works of art from around the world and from almost every time period. The museum was founded in 1879.
  • St. Louis Science Center: General admission to the museum’s 700 interactive exhibits is free. There’s also an OMNIMAX Theater and a planetarium.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: This 79-acre garden is a National Historic Landmark. Founded in 1859, it is the country’s oldest botanical garden still in use. Tickets can be purchased online.   

About the Author

Johanna Read