Welcome to Saint Louis!
The city of Saint Louis began in 1764 as a small fur trading settlement, founded by the French Creole, Pierre Laclede, and was a major center for inland transportation for the entire period of America's westward expansion. Paddlewheel packet boats formed a colorful chapter of the city's past. The daring and graceful Eads Bridge, completed in 1874, was the first to cross the Mississippi, and made the city a focus of the emerging rail network of the frontier. Saint Louis was a stopping place in the northern migration of jazz, a role immortalized in W.C. Handy's “Saint Louis Blues." The city's World's Fair in 1904, the largest and loveliest of international expositions, remains a landmark in the folklore of the city.
Today St. Louis is a handsome, forested metropolitan area consisting of ten counties in Missouri and Illinois, with a stable, slow growing population of 2.5 million people. Its soaring stainless steel Gateway Arch, completed in 1965, commemorates the city's historic role as the Gateway to the West, and symbolizes as well the remarkable civic revival which has taken place since the 1960s. The Civic Center Redevelopment, Busch Memorial Stadium, the America's Center, the Scottrade Center, the Edward Jones Dome, the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse, and numerous new office buildings downtown have all regenerated downtown Saint Louis. Laclede's Landing, Union Station, the Soulard neighborhood, Lafayette Square, and the Central West End are nationally recognized efforts in a community that has led the way in historic preservation.
The Saint Louis regional infrastructure features a well-designed and, for the most part, uncongested expressway system. The first component of a light-rail transit system opened in the summer of 1993 and was expanded to include Shrewsbury in 2006. The health-care system of the metropolitan area ranks among the finest in the nation. The regional climate features four distinct seasons and better than 300 days of sunshine per year: a winter generally with little snow; a warm, humid summer; and a spring and fall that are long, mild, and beautiful.
Unlike most American cities, Saint Louis was founded by Roman Catholics, and today the Catholic community, comprising upwards of 40% of the area's population, continues to exercise a strong but unofficial influence. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, with one-half million members, the largest of three dioceses in the area, is a stable, active, and ecumenically involved ecclesial community. Its historic role in the evangelization of the American West was recognized with the 1989 canonization of Rose Philippine Duchesne, the 19th century French missionary entombed at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Saint Charles, Missouri. The diocese's same historic role had inspired the late Cardinal John J. Glennon a half-century earlier to call his local Church “the Rome of the West."
Brick-and-mortar monuments to the faith of the Catholic community stand throughout the city and surrounding counties, in numerous immigrant churches, religious houses, and educational and charitable institutions. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is a magnificent edifice, with a domed Romanesque exterior and Byzantine interior, housing the largest collection of mosaics in the Western Hemisphere. The Old Cathedral, the Basilica of Louis IX, King of France, stands on the Saint Louis riverfront, on the only piece of downtown property that has never changed hands.
Metropolitan Saint Louis boasts no fewer than six universities: Jesuit-run Saint Louis University, nationally-noted Washington University, Webster University, Maryville University, and the state institutions, the University of Missouri at Saint Louis, and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. In addition to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, the area is rich in theological resources, including Eden Theological Seminary (United Church of Christ), Concordia Seminary (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), Covenant Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), the Dominican-run Aquinas Institute of Theology (Roman Catholic), and the Department of Theological Studies of Saint Louis University. Enrollment in these programs totals some 1,300 students.
Among the cultural resources of the area, four institutions rank as world-class. The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second oldest symphony orchestra in the United States. The Opera Theater of Saint Louis is among the more prominent success stories of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Missouri Botanical Garden, known locally as Shaw's Garden for its founder, was the first public botanical garden in the United States. It has been described by National Geographic as “one of the world's leading centers for tropical botanical research." The Cahokia Mounds State Park in suburban Illinois contains the only remainder of what was once an extensive system of mounds on both sides of the Mississippi River, left by a pre-Columbian civilization dating back to 700 A.D. It is one of 14 World Heritage Sites in the United States, 150 in the world, designated by the United Nations.
The city's gracious Forest Park contains the Saint Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis History Museum (home of the Missouri Historical Society), and the Saint Louis Science Center, four institutions of national note, all of which feature both exhibits and educational programs.
The city offers a rich variety of entertainments. The Saint Louis Municipal Opera, known locally as the Muny, offers concerts and musicals throughout the summer, at its 12,000-seat outdoor amphitheater in Forest Park. The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis offers six productions per season at the Loretto Hilton Center of Webster University. Saint Louis is a regular stop for touring performers and theater companies, and it also enjoys a robust local heritage of jazz.
Lighter entertainments include the Saint Louis Cardinals, one of the oldest and most distinguished franchises in baseball, with twelve World Championships, and the Saint Louis Blues, a hockey team of more recent vintage. The National Football League's Saint Louis Rams, champions of Super Bowl XXXIV, began playing in Saint Louis in the fall of 1995. The theme park, Six Flags Saint Louis, is located in ex-urban Eureka, Missouri. Finally, a description of Saint Louis would not be complete without at least a mention of its fine restaurants. Here one can find cuisine of almost any variety, including: American, Mexican, Italian, French, Greek, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, and Ethiopian.
In his book, Life on the Mississippi, Missouri born author Mark Twain wrote: “The first time I ever saw Saint Louis I could have bought it for six million dollars, and it was the mistake of my life that I did not do so." Saint Louis, for its part, has long forgiven him the mistake, but he was not the last to feel the city's allure.