An observation tower opening soon in Hartford, Ill., has been named for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the intrepid explorers who helped map the newly purchased Louisiana Territory in the early 19th Century. And like Lewis and Clark, the tower's builders have completed their journey during a period of years.
The twin towers stand tall over a 4.5-acre stretch of land near the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, which marks the location of Camp Dubois, the training location of the explorers who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Begun in 2002, the project dragged on amid struggles with bad weather and intermittent funding. Developers had hoped to open the building in 2003, the bicentennial of the beginning of Lewis and Clark's journey.
A large mural made up of 2,200 tiles dominates the inside of the 180-foot-tall building. Nearby is what will eventually be a fountain shooting water from a large concrete compass. Visitors can access the panoramic views that the observation towers afford by taking an elevator (in one tower) or stairs (in the other tower) 150 feet up to the highest of three viewing decks. Easily visible is the Gateway Arch, the signature landmark of St. Louis, marking it as the "Gateway to the West."
Lewis and Clark began their journey in what is now the St. Louis area, in 1803, at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, who had authorized the Louisiana Purchase, the land deal that effectively doubled the size of the country. Along the way, the Corps of Discovery, as the group was known, made contact with a large number of Native American tribes, many of whom reacted positively to the inclusion of Sacagawea and other Native Americans in the group. The maps the Corps of Discovery produced (like the one below) and the scientific and cultural knowledge that filled the famous journals vastly increased people's understanding of the North American continent and the people, animals, and plants living within it.