Michael Portillo rides the railroads of North America with his Appleton's Guide to the United States and Canada. In St Louis, Michael ascends the Gateway Arch.
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I have crossed the Atlantic to ride the railroads of North America
with my reliable Appleton's guide.
Published in the late 19th century,
Appleton's General Guide To North America will direct me to all that's
novel, beautiful, memorable
and striking in the United States.
THEY SPEAK OWN LANGUAGE
As I journey across this vast continent,
I'll discover how pioneers and cowboys conquered the west...
and how the railroads tied this nation together,
helping to create the global superstate of today.
Through breathtaking scenery, where I'll encounter magnificent beasts,
mimic fearless explorers and witness distinctive customs,
I'll travel 1,500 miles
recapturing the excitement and promise of the American frontier.
I'm beginning a new American adventure,
striking out west into regions that would have been uncharted territory
for most readers of my Appleton's guide.
I'll be using the railroads that enabled the United States
in the 19th century
to fulfil its so-called "manifest destiny" to span the North American
continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
I'll be following the tracks of intrepid men and women who ventured
forth to discover the indelible mark that they left on the culture
and the landscape of the west.
My journey begins in St Louis, Missouri, from where I head west,
pursuing the route of the pioneers,
taking in Kansas City and Dodge City.
I'll stop at a surprising British outpost in Colorado Springs before
turning south to Hispanic Albuquerque in New Mexico.
My journey will end at Arizona's awe-inspiring Grand Canyon.
Today I'm exploring St Louis.
I'll begin by taking in the old and new icons of the city
before embarking on an expedition from the banks of the Missouri.
Returning downtown, I'll visit an urban oasis and end by drinking in
the product of a 19th-century visionary.
On my travels I marvel at America's monument to the west.
It is absolutely astonishing but when you get beneath it
you can't believe the scale of it.
I learn of the expedition which explored new lands
but had devastating consequences.
In the decades that followed,
it meant for the demise of the Native Americans
and their way of life would soon disappear.
And in what was America's grandest station,
I sip some fine railroad refreshment.
I'm in the great metropolis of St Louis.
Named in honour of King Louis IX of France,
it was founded by French fur-traders in 1784
on the western side of the Mississippi River.
After the city became part of the United States,
it formed the gateway to the west.
I'm now riding the MetroLink in St Louis.
Appleton's explains the city's key position,
"Situated almost in the centre of the great valley of the Mississippi,
"20 miles below the entrance of the Missouri."
The rivers were the original highways of the United States,
but the Mississippi presented a formidable natural barrier
and St Louis was the crossing point for thousands
who dreamed of a new life out west.
As the railroad struck out across America,
the mighty Mississippi was a colossal moat denying access
to the territory beyond.
I'm meeting park ranger Don Schwarzberger to find out how
it was overcome.
Don, my Appleton's is quite excited about this bridge.
"The great St Louis bridge across the Mississippi
"from Washington Avenue to a corresponding point in east St Louis
"is regarded as one of the greatest triumphs of American engineering,
"designed by James B Eads, completed in 1874."
Is it a great triumph of American engineering?
We believe it is
because a bridge like this had never been made
out of cast steel and, plus,
the design itself had never been tried before.
James Buchanan Eads was a civil engineer from St Louis
who was largely self-educated.
What experience did Eads have of building bridges?
He had no experience of building bridges.
He was used to building hotels and buildings and,
when he heard about the dilemma that they had in St Louis, he decided,
"I'm going to build a bridge
"that's going to make St Louis accessible from the east."
And the bridge that he built was an engineering first,
the longest arch bridge in the world
and one of the first to carry railroad tracks.
To combat the Mississippi's strong currents,
it had to be anchored into the bedrock over 100 feet beneath
the river, deeper than ever before attempted,
and the public was anxious.
Now, the bridge was innovative.
There was literally a fear, was there, that it wouldn't work?
Yes, because of the structure and the way it was designed,
everybody was sceptical that it would not hold up,
so James Buchanan Eads,
three days after the bridge was finished,
before it was to be opened on the Fourth of July,
he took an elephant from the local circus and decided to walk it across
the bridge to prove to everybody that it would hold
because folklore has it
that an elephant would not cross an unstable surface.
Don, do you know? I believe if I'd been asked to cross the Mississippi
on a bridge built by someone who'd never built a bridge before,
I'd be sceptical, too.
Throughout the 19th century, Eads Bridge was the icon of the city,
but in the 20th it would be rivalled
by another superb feat of engineering.
The Gateway Arch was completed in 1965 to commemorate St Louis' role
as the gateway to the west.
It is absolutely astonishing.
I've seen it, you know, around the city, but when you get beneath it
you can't believe the scale of it.
This must be the biggest monument in the United States.
It is the tallest freestanding monument in the United States,
at 630 feet.
To my delight, the way to ascend the highest monument in the country
is by train, running inside the arch.
Doors are now closing.
You ready for a four-minute ride to the top?
I can't wait.
We've accelerated and now this is just like an elevator,
we're going up pretty much vertically.
What a fantastic piece of engineering this is.
This is really exciting.
I think this is the darnedest machine I've ever been in.
And from the top I'm rewarded with a fabulous view.
Well, this is like no building I've ever been in
because, here, you lean right out to get the view below.
As you lean down, you can see the people directly below
and to say that they look like ants would be an exaggeration.
They look much smaller.
St Louis became the gateway to the west because of geography.
To understand its critical location, I'm taking to the skies.
This map in my Appleton's shows why St Louis is so important.
Here is the city standing on the west of the Mississippi River.
But just to the north of the city, the great Missouri River enters and,
in a few moments, I'll be at the point where the waters meet.
The Mississippi cut through the United States from north to south
and the Missouri flows in from the west.
In the era before the transcontinental railroads,
these were the nation's transport and trade arteries.
When it comes to American rivers, size matters.
The browner waters of the Missouri River have travelled 2,300 miles
from their source in the mountains of Montana to reach here,
the waters of the Mississippi, and yet the Mississippi still has more
than 1,000 miles to travel
before it reaches the sea in the Gulf of Mexico.
And it's on the banks of the Missouri River
that I'm making my next stop.
At the turn of the 19th century,
this was French territory known as Louisiana.
It bordered the United States,
whose third president was Thomas Jefferson.
To find out how their came to be an American west for the pioneers to
conquer, I'm meeting Jan Donaldson.
Jan, my Appleton's remarks that, in 1803,
"All the territory then known as Louisiana
"was ceded to the United States."
Ceded by whom and what did the territory really consist of?
Well, the Louisiana territory
was a large piece of real estate of the day.
It was ceded by Napoleon of France, who needed money to finance his wars
in Europe and, of course, Jefferson was interested in buying.
It consisted of Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa,
Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.
A simply vast amount of territory.
I mean, it would take up much of the map of Europe.
It must have doubled the size of the United States.
It more than doubled the size of the United States.
Known as the Louisiana Purchase,
the territory turned out to be 828,000 square miles,
for which the United States paid 15 million,
one of the best real-estate deals of all time.
Did Napoleon understand, did Thomas Jefferson understand,
what was involved in the purchase?
They did not. There was a map of that day that only showed the
tributaries and the Missouri River
going up to about where Nebraska is now,
so that map did not even show everything that they were buying
or that Napoleon was selling.
'To find out exactly what he had bought,
'Thomas Jefferson decided to put together an expedition to be led by
'Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark.'
Jan and his team re-enact this historic voyage
in a magnificent and exact
replica of the original keelboat used by Lewis and Clark.
Jan, that is, I think, one of the most beautiful boats
that I've ever seen.
-Tell me about that.
-It's 55 feet long, cedar hull on the outside,
oak ribs on the inside.
It's got a bridge and so forth, it carries a lot of cargo,
draft's only about 30 inches.
We go up the river and we'd like you to join us,
and we're going to put you in a set of whites
and we're going to go aboard.
Ready for action, sir.
In May 1804,
Lewis and Clark set out with a corps of about 50 men to explore
the United States' newly-acquired lands.
Their task was to map the continent's interior,
and to make contact with the tribes of Native Americans.
On the boat today is 80-year-old Bob Plummer,
who's been making parts of this epic journey for 20 years.
You must have a pretty good idea of how fit men can be.
Would you say Lewis and Clark must've been very,
-very special kind of guys?
Yeah, they were in good shape and they were in a lot better shape when
they started rowing up this river.
They actually cordelled more than they rowed.
They had men ashore with ropes over their shoulder
and pulled the boat up.
Problem was their feet would get so sore they'd lose their moccasins,
so they had to go barefoot,
and their feet was cut all the time.
It was a journey full of hardships and dangers, and the expedition
relied on help from the tribes that they met.
What contact did they have with the Native Americans?
Well, everywhere they visited the Native Americans,
they made contact on direction of President Jefferson.
And it was to exchange gifts and exchange information and make a pact
of friendship, because that's what it was,
it was an outreach to the Native Americans that had,
some of them, never seen a white man before.
They travelled to the source of the Missouri River before taking to
horseback to cross the daunting Rocky Mountains.
One year and 4,000 miles since they'd left St Louis,
the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in November 1805.
Their maps and journals were indispensable
for settlers going west.
Am I right that you actually are a descendant of William Clark?
William Clark is my great-great-great-grandfather.
What do you think of the achievements of Lewis and Clark?
Well, certainly the most significant achievement is finding a feasible
route to the Pacific and opening the door to Western expansion.
I think for the Native Americans
it marks a point in time when their lives as they knew them were facing
the beginning of the end.
In the decades that followed Lewis and Clark,
it meant for the demise of the Native Americans
-and their way of life would soon disappear.
After my exertions on the River, I'm keen for a comfortable bed tonight
and in St Louis there's one obvious place for me to stay.
At the time of my guidebook, this was a magnificent,
opulent and busy railway terminal,
but today Union Station is a hotel.
-Welcome to Union Station.
This is absolutely fantastic.
This must've been one of the great railroad stations of America.
Oh, exactly, and what you see today is the way it was in 1894.
Why did St Louis merit a station of such grandeur?
Oh, simply because this was the place first to the west
of the Mississippi. It married the east to the west.
Up until that time we didn't have anything that,
other than Chicago of course, that would tie the country together.
When opened it was the largest and most ornate terminal
in the United States.
The last commuter service pulled out of Union Station in 1978
and, in honour of those railroads,
I'm trying a coffee and almond liqueur cocktail
known as a Union Pacific.
-Here you are.
-Ooh, thank you.
You're very welcome.
Our Union Station signature drink.
It's a new morning in St Louis and, led by my Appleton's guide,
I've more exploring to do.
In this big city, I'm hoping to discover some tranquillity.
Appleton's draws my attention to Shaw's Garden,
"Which Henry Shaw has opened to the public
"and intends as a gift far the city."
This far west, I expected tumbleweed and cactus, not a bed of roses.
The Missouri Botanical Gardens are like an oasis
in the heart of the city.
The gardens' president, Peter Wyse Jackson,
came here in 2010 after working at the botanical gardens
of Trinity College Dublin.
Peter, my Appleton's says,
"The herbaceous and flower garden, embracing ten acres, contains almost
"every flower that can be grown at this latitude.
"There are several greenhouses
"with thousands of exotic and tropical plants."
I was expecting the Wild West.
This sounds like, I don't know, Great Britain.
Well, Henry Shaw really created the garden
to be what he remembered from his childhood because, of course,
he was an Englishman. He was born in Sheffield in 1800.
And when Shaw began, what was here?
All that was here was prairie.
There wasn't a single tree on all of the land that he owned.
Was Shaw interested in the botany of America,
the samples coming back from the west?
Yes, indeed. He certainly grew a large number of specimens
in the garden from places in the US but, equally,
he was growing plants from all round the world.
Having made his money in the cutlery business,
Henry Shaw decided to use his fortune to cultivate
the prairie land and created these abundant gardens.
Inspired by that pioneering spirit,
the gardens later developed a Climatron,
the world's first geodesic dome greenhouse,
which today houses around 7,000 species.
Many of the plants that are grown in the Climatron are either
very rare or some of them are endangered.
Indeed, we have some species that are extinct in the wild.
We aim to have as complete a reference collection of the world's
plants, both preserved specimens and DNA for our DNA bank.
And maybe you could help us today.
-By going up there?
You look like a fit man who could do that.
Here we go.
'The specimen bank is one of the most comprehensive in the world,
'with over 6.6 million samples, which it's hoped
'can be used for future conservation of species.
Lovely sample there.
And now a sample of leaf.
Couple of leaves
and two beautiful fruit.
-Now, what will you do with that?
-We will test to see whether these are
ripe and whether we can add these to the seed bank, but the leaves
we'll make into a DNA sample, which will go into our DNA bank.
Continuing Shaw's legacy.
I'm glad to have played a tiny part in the garden's important work.
And once more Appleton's draws me on,
directing me to another project aimed at civilising the west.
St Louis grew rapidly during the 19th-century.
Between 1830-1870, the population increased by 60 times.
Providing for its tens of thousands of new inhabitants was a major
concern and the city struggled to deliver clean water.
Appleton's tells me that the city waterworks are situated 3.5 miles
north of the courthouse.
"The two pumping engines,
"each with a capacity of 17 million gallons a day, are worth seeing
"and are open to visitors at all times."
By the time of my guidebook, St Louis had become an enormous city.
With the Missouri and the Mississippi, there was water, water,
all around, but there might have been scarcely a drop to drink
but for human ingenuity.
In the 1840s and '50s, as the population boomed,
St Louis was struck by cholera.
Desperate to provide a safe water supply, the city board turned to a
talented railway engineer, James P Kirkwood,
to design a new city waterworks.
Today Pat Baldera is in charge of the 19th-century Chain of Rocks
water-treatment plant. He's going to show me how it used to work,
starting at these now disused intake towers in the middle of the river.
One half bucket of Mississippi water.
Now, sir, would you care to drink that?
Mmm, bit brown, isn't it?
That's the famous sediment, is it?
Yes, you know, Mark Twain said you could tell the difference between
a St Louis man and an outsider because the outsider would try
to drink off the top
but a man from St Louis would stir up the sediment
and chuck the whole thing down.
Probably thinking that the sediment was good for you.
I'm going to confine the sediment to the Mississippi.
Here on the eastern shores of the river,
James Kirkwood designed a plant to rid the water of its sediment
and to purify it by filtering it through sand.
Today the plant operates on the same basic principle.
Now, I believe that in St Louis you pride yourselves on your water.
Yes, we consider ourselves to have the best water in the country
and I'd like to prove that to you by maybe taking a blind taste test.
-All right, so, if I could get you to turn around,
I'll prepare you one sample with traditional bottled water
and one sample right from the filter plant here.
OK. No peeping, I promise.
All right, Michael.
Thank you very much.
I'm going to say this one is from the Mississippi.
-Am I right?
Do you know why?
-It's a little bit softer on the palate.
It's kind of actually more interesting as a water.
-Very pure. Well done.
-There may be just a little bit of Mark Twain's
sediment still left in there.
MICHAEL LAUGHS I hope so!
The rivers have defined St Louis
and I end my exploration of the city at the water's edge.
The United States perceived a manifest destiny to control
all the land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
and indeed to civilise it,
including with botanical gardens and water-treatment plants.
I struggle to grasp the courage that would've been needed by Lewis
and Clark to set off into the unknown to map the west,
or to imagine the excitement felt by settler families able to cross the
Mississippi on Eads Bridge by railroad into a new future.
My journey will continue west along the Missouri.
Next time, I try my hand on a pipe-production line...
We're on a roll now.
A little bit finger in that one!
..discover where outlaws of the American frontier
were brought to justice...
And what they did is they hauled you all the way back
to Jefferson City, Missouri.
That's what caused us to have a population of over 5,000 people.
..and enjoy the merry traditions of the Midwest's German settlers.
-Oi, oi, oi!
Michael Portillo crosses the Atlantic once more to ride the railroads of North America with his faithful Appleton's Guide to the United States and Canada. Amid breathtaking scenery, he encounters magnificent beasts, joins intrepid explorers and witnesses unique customs on an awesome 1,500-mile journey to recapture the excitement and promise of the 19th-century American Frontier.
In St Louis, Michael ascends America's monument to the Wild West, the astonishing Gateway Arch, the tallest free-standing monument in the United States, and makes a delightful discovery inside it. And on the banks of the Missouri River, he is invited aboard a magnificent replica of the original keel boat used for a historic expedition.