Throughout St. Louis, historic sites and museums tell stories of the region’s past, present and future.
From Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site to Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum and the Missouri Civil War Museum to The Griot Museum of Black History, local attractions cover a range of significant topics and spotlight a variety of historical figures.
Guided tours are also a great way to connect with St. Louis history. Led by exuberant experts, guided tours such as Discover St. Louis, See STL and Un(Heard)Of STL provide aha moments, when you discover something new about a place and it changes your entire perspective.
What will you learn on your journey through the Gateway City?
Founded in the 1850s as a small neighborhood brewery, Anheuser-Busch quickly transformed from a local fixture into a national presence. Today, it serves as a hub for brewing innovation, using the highest-quality ingredients, grown by American farmers, to produce more than 30 brands of beer.
The Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis is the company’s flagship brewery. The elaborate, red-brick buildings have a German Romanesque style, with rounded arches, embellished cornices and castellated rooflines, and three of them have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Administration Building, the Circular Stable and the Brewhouse, all built in the late-1800s. The interiors of the buildings feature equally beautiful details, including a multistory hop chandelier and intricate ironwork. Guests can tour the innovative space before taking a seat in the Anheuser-Busch Biergarten and enjoying a cold one – on the house.
If you want to venture farther off the beaten path, head to Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum. With more than 170 years of history, it’s not only a tranquil burial site; it’s also a beloved local landmark and a shining example of environmental stewardship. Throughout the year, it hosts more than 300 events, covering a range of topics from history to horticulture, but you’re welcome to roam around the grounds on your own.
American explorer William Clark and co-founder of Anheuser-Busch Adolphus Busch are among the most notable people buried here. Along the walking paths, you can also spot surnames that identify St. Louis buildings and parks, including Barnes, Bixby, McMillan, Shaw and Wainwright.
Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum spotlights women in history, both on the grounds and online, too. Learn about Mary Meachum, an American abolitionist who dedicated her life to educating and freeing enslaved people (don’t miss the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing mural on the St. Louis Riverfront Trail); Florence Hayward, a successful writer best-known for her Travel Letters and the only woman with a position on the Board of Commissioners of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair; Florence Wyman Richardson, one of the early workers for the St. Louis Symphony Society and the first president of the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League; and Gerty Cori, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who was also featured on a postage stamp, among others.
The site of Big Mound, the largest mound in the St. Louis Mound Group, sits along the Mounds Heritage Trail erected by Great Rivers Greenway. A ridge mound – 319 feet long, 158 feet wide and 34 feet high – Big Mound contained a burial chamber, which held 20 to 30 individuals.
Development of St. Louis city led to the complete destruction of Big Mound in 1869, and by 1904, almost all the mounds in St. Louis had been destroyed. Today, the site of Big Mound recognizes the culture of the Osage Nation, which once called this land home, the people who were buried here and their living descendants.
Sugarloaf Mound is the only mound that remains in St. Louis. Counterpublic, one of the world’s largest public art platforms, is working with the Osage Nation to activate the site. “We want to bring artist commissions to the site,” James McAnally, artistic and executive director of Counterpublic says, “but beyond that, we want to support the effort to preserve the mound and return it to the Osage Nation.”
Counterpublic respectfully acknowledges that we are on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Osage, Missouria and Illini people, who have stewarded the land for generations. On its website, Counterpublic asks us to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration and settlement that bring us to this community today and the ways in which we might work to care for and repair these legacies in the present.
The remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric indigenous civilization north of Mexico are preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site less than 10 miles from downtown St. Louis. The people who lived here – the Mississipians – were accomplished builders, and they erected a wide variety of structures, from practical homes for everyday living to monumental public works that have maintained their grandeur for centuries. With more than five miles of trails, 100-foot-tall mounds and an engaging interpretive center, history buffs will leave the site with a greater understanding of this ancient city – and exciting stories to share with family and friends.
Built in 1851 as the first house in the elegant Lucas Place neighborhood, the Campbell House Museum enlivens the history of St. Louis and Westward Expansion through the story of the Campbell family and their home. Renowned fur trader and entrepreneur Robert Campbell and his family lived in the house from 1854 to 1938, and today, the museum still contains hundreds of their original possessions, including furniture, fixtures, paintings, clothing, family documents, carriages and a unique set of interior photographs taken in the mid-1880s when the house was the center of St. Louis society. In 1977, the Campbell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2005, the Campbell House Museum completed a meticulous, five-year restoration, returning the building to its opulent appearance.
The Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion is a magnificent example of the late Greek Revival style, but its significance is more than architectural. The exquisite house preserves the stories of the families who lived here, including members of the founding families of St. Louis. On a guided tour, learn about the western fur trade, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the caves beneath the property, the highway system that almost destroyed the house and more. You’ll also get an up-close look at original antiques and artifacts that adorn the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion.
In 2007, the Field House Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark; it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been named a St. Louis Landmark. Built in 1850, the red-brick row house was the childhood home of Eugene Field, an American writer best known for his children’s poetry and humorous essays. Dred and Harriet Scott, who filed separate petitions in suits against Irene Emerson to obtain their freedom from slavery in 1846, are also featured prominently in the Field House Museum. Eugene’s father, Roswell Field, took the couple’s case to the U.S. District Court in St. Louis and prepared their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He then persuaded Montgomery Blair, a high-profile lawyer from St. Louis who was living in Washington, D.C. at the time, to argue the case before the Supreme Court. Learn more about these important historical figures during your visit.
The stories of more than 300 enslaved men and women in Missouri who risked their lives to sue their owners for freedom sat in boxes for more than a century. Now, those civil rights cases – some argued in the Old Courthouse – are commemorated with a new bronze sculpture known as the Freedom Suits Memorial. Located on the east side of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis, the 14-foot memorial by artist Preston Jackson features the names of the enslaved people as well as depictions of their court scenes. “I felt like all of them were my direct ancestors and I had a personal responsibility to bring those voices out,” St. Louis circuit judge David Mason, who strove to bring greater public awareness to the freedom suits, told PBS. “[I had a responsibility] to let everyone know that the slave was not a passive, cowering victim but a freedom fighter from the start.”
Whether you remember life before smartphones or not, we think that you’ll have a blast poking around the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum. The self-guided history museum in Jefferson Barracks Park has hands-on displays alongside an extensive collection of telephones manufactured from the late 1800s through 2012. You can also marvel at military telephones from World War I through the Gulf War, operator switchboards from the 1920s and 1960s, a variety of novelty telephones and a telephone poll complete with climbing equipment.
By acquiring, preserving and exhibiting telephone-related artifacts, the museum aims to engage visitors in experiences that inspire interests in the fields of history and engineering. Its exhibits also invite people to reminisce about the comical lack of privacy on a party line, the juvenile joy of three-way calling, the newfound freedom of cordless phones and other happy memories of telephonic communication. In the last room of the museum, don’t miss the character telephone exhibit where phones take the shape of Snoopy, Pac-Man, the Keebler elf, the Jolly Green Giant, bumper cars, corn on the cob and more.
Mary Meachum and her husband, Reverend John Berry Meachum, were staunch abolitionists who dedicated their lives to educating and freeing enslaved people. On the night of May 21, 1855, Mary attempted to help a small group cross the Mississippi River into Illinois, where slavery was outlawed. In the end, four enslaved people escaped and five were caught; Mary was arrested, charged in criminal court for assisting the “fugitives” and put under house arrest.
The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing is the most well-documented escape in Missouri, and in 2001, the National Park Service recognized the site as part of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. To this day, it’s the only nationally recognized site of the Underground Railroad west of the Mississippi River. Every year, Great Rivers Greenway celebrates the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing with a reenactment at the site as a unique and dynamic way to immerse both residents and visitors in this little-known history.
The Gateway Arch is a sight to see. While we highly recommend taking the tram ride to the top of the 630-foot monument, we also urge you to explore the wealth of stories that lie below it. The Museum at the Gateway Arch offers a free, innovative and accessible experience, showcasing more than 200 years of St. Louis history.
With six interactive galleries, you’ll hear untold stories of the city’s founding, examine westward expansion from multiple perspectives and see artifacts and tactiles commemorating America’s pioneering spirit. You can also take a deep dive into the history of the Gateway Arch, learning new tidbits about its design, construction and lasting legacy.
While you’re here, check out the brand-new virtual-reality experience Cobblestones & Courage, which transports visitors to the 1850s St. Louis riverfront era. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the working riverfront, you can learn real stories from three individuals: John Parker, an enslaved dock worker who loaded and unloaded steamboats to make money to buy his freedom; Anna Hormann, who emigrated from Germany to St. Louis with her family; and James B. Eads, who designed a “submarine” to salvage cargo from sunken steamboats at the bottom of the Mississippi River.
Utilizing thousands of artifacts, including documents and weapons, the Missouri Civil War Museum does a commendable job of explaining Missouri’s complicated role in the American Civil War. Located within Jefferson Barracks Park, the nonprofit educational organization boasts one of the largest Civil War research libraries in the country.
Explore the storied history of St. Louis, from its founding in 1764 to the present day. The Missouri History Museum’s exhibits occasionally change, but they’re always well done. Looking for innovative and unexpected ways to interact with St. Louis history? Join one of the Missouri Historical Society’s See STL tours. The tour guides, who have an infectious enthusiasm for the area and its exciting progress, mix engaging storytelling and historical knowledge to create an unforgettable experience. Each tour lasts two hours, and topics range from the origins of downtown St. Louis to urban renewal in the region and famous woman residents to memorable musical artists.
One of the most important historic sites in the U.S., the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis is where the notable Dred and Harriet Scott cases were first heard in 1847. The last slave sale in St. Louis also took place on the steps of the courthouse in 1861 as part of a property settlement. The Old Courthouse is temporarily closed amid a $27.5 million renovation led by St. Louis-based Tarlton Corporation, which will focus on increasing accessibility for all visitors, structural improvements and new exhibitory. The reopening will include an exhibition called Dred Scott: A Legacy of Courage.
Located in the southwest plaza of CITYPARK, where St. Louis CITY SC plays, Pillars of the Valley is a permanent public art exhibit that recognizes and honors the 20,000 predominantly Black residents of the once-thriving Mill Creek Valley neighborhood who were displaced in the name of urban renewal in the 1950s. Of the 5,000 homes, schools, churches and businesses in the neighborhood, the Harris-Stowe State University campus is the only surviving building.
The powerful work – the vision of nationally acclaimed post-disciplinary artist and East St. Louis native Damon Davis – aims to build connections and drive discussions around a more inclusive future for all. The tribute also includes landscaping matching the plot lines of the buildings that once stood in the same spot and plaques displaying the addresses of the former homes. Pillars of the Valley is part of a larger installation along a planned one-mile stretch of the Brickline Greenway.
Perched atop Art Hill in Forest Park, the Saint Louis Art Museum boasts one of the country’s leading comprehensive collections, but before you head inside the free museum, take a moment to appreciate the building that houses it. Designed by American architect Cass Gilbert in a neoclassical style, the main building opened in 1904, as one of the exhibition pavilions for the St. Louis World’s Fair. The building, which draws inspiration from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy, is one of the few permanent remnants of the fair. Outside, you’ll also find the Apotheosis of St. Louis, a statue representing King Louis IX of France, the namesake of our city, which dominates the area in front of the museum.
Famed for his ragtime compositions, Scott Joplin knew how to entertain. During your visit to the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, his famous melodies – think “Maple Leaf Rag,” “The Entertainer” and “Elite Syncopations” – will set the mood. Joplin lived here with his first wife, Belle Jones. Today, the modest flat on Delmar Boulevard is still lit by gas lamps and furnished as if it were 1902, when Joplin was poised at the piano, composing his timeless tunes.
Located in downtown St. Louis, this state-of-the-art museum honors local military service members, veterans and their families. The Missouri Historical Society assumed operations of the museum in November 2015 and began a $30 million revitalization of the site in 2016. Thanks to the renovation, the site now has more than double the amount of exhibit space, the four iconic Walker Hancock sculptures framing the entrance are free of coal dust and embedded dirt, the building is LEED-certified to the Gold level and it meets ADA compliance for the first time in the building’s history.
Densely packed with red-brick row houses, Soulard is one of the oldest – and most charming – residential neighborhoods in St. Louis. Once part of the estate of Antoine and Julia Soulard, the neighborhood is also the city’s greatest lesson in historic preservation and urban redevelopment. After Antoine died, Julia began subdividing the property and selling lots, becoming the first female real estate developer west of the Mississippi River.
At the time, Julia gave two city blocks to the people of St. Louis with the stipulation that the land be used as a public market. Today, Soulard Farmers Market remains a cornerstone of the neighborhood, drawing thousands of residents and tourists alike to purchase fresh cuts of meat, aromatic herbs and spices and locally grown flowers, among other consumables. Some of the region’s most impressive makers also peddle their products – think extraordinarily flavored pickles, delicate macarons, individual Bundt cakes and superfood juices.
The Griot Museum of Black History, located in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, reveals the broad scope of Black history and culture. Its mission is to collect, preserve, interpret and share the stories of Black people, highlighting their regional connection to American history and their contributions to the country’s development. The core galleries of The Griot Museum include artifacts, memorabilia and life-size wax figures. Journey inside to “meet” Josephine Baker, Dred and Harriet Scott, James Milton Turner, Miles Davis and more historical figures with ties to St. Louis.
For more than 100 years, The Muny has filled Forest Park with the sounds of Broadway. Founded in 1919, it holds the prestigious title of the oldest and largest outdoor musical theater in the U.S., attracting out-of-town professionals as well as local talent for memorable musicals ranging from As You Like It (the very first production ever mounted at what would become The Muny) to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Little Shop of Horrors to Rent. Attending a performance at The Muny with family and friends is a beloved St. Louis tradition. Running from June through August, the shows are enchanting, electrifying and empowering, and every night, there are free seats available on a first-come first-served basis, so everyone can experience the magic of live theater.
Known as the victorious Civil War general who saved the Union and the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant married Julia Dent in 1848 and lived at her family home, White Haven, from 1854 to 1859. At the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, you can take a guided tour of White Haven, which was run by an enslaved African American workforce before the Civil War. The park museum – which is housed in a historic horse stable designed by Grant – features six permanent exhibits that dig deeper into the rich and varied history and culture of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. We also recommend watching the 22-minute orientation film, which provides more insights into Grant’s military service and two terms as president.
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