Feature Story

Dorothy About Town: 12.12.18

I can’t say that I’ve been to many war memorials outside the iconic ones in Washington, D.C., but the newly renovated Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis is well worth a visit, even for non-veterans—well, especially for non-veterans. Now operated by the Missouri Historical Society, the neoclassical structure of marble and terrazzo
is imposing as a piece of architecture. But it’s the interior exhibits filled with wondrous artifacts and historical information that reveal how important St. Louis has been in the defense of the free world.

Originally built as a memorial to the fallen of World War I, the museum chronicles the city’s military role from pre- Revolutionary War times to today’s war on terrorism. Ever wonder how Arsenal Street got its name? It was the site of St. Louis’ famous military arsenal that cast much of the fledgling nation’s musket and rifle ammunition, cartridges, artillery rounds, swords and bayonets. And the Eads Bridge was named for James Eads, who developed ironclad gunboats used by the North in the Civil War.

St. Louis also was an important city from which forces helped settle and defend the American west. Ft. Belle Fontaine, 12 miles north of St. Louis, was the first American military post west of the Mississippi. The Missouri Territorial Rangers operated from there, scouting and skirmishing with Native Americans along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. In 1826, Jefferson Barracks was built to replace the old fort, and it holds the distinction of being the oldest active military post west of the Mississippi. Among those who have passed through its doors: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Local companies have played a major role in securing our nation, too. Wagner Electric made munitions for WWI, and Emerson Electric produced aircraft turrets for B-25 Liberator bombers in WWII. Mallinckrodt Chemical Works supplied refined uranium to the Manhattan Project, and the St. Louis Ordnance Plant was the largest manufacturer of small arms ammunition in the world during WWII.

Soldiers Memorial Museum is humbling. To stand amid 250 years of regional history will make you proud of all that St. Louisans have endured, sacrificed and achieved.