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Compared to some other U.S. cities, St. Louis is rather unassuming. The second-largest city in Missouri is known for its Gateway Arch and its location near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. But St. Louis almost occupied a much more dramatic place in history, when it was seriously considered as a potential national capital in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War.
St. Louis was seen as not only being a geographically central location, but also a city in a state that embodied aspects of both the North and the South. Missouri had not seceded despite being a slave state, it was (obviously) part of the Missouri Compromise, and St. Louis was growing both in population and as a transportation hub. And unlike Washington, D.C., St. Louis didn't suffer from mosquitoes, nor dusty and muddy streets.
"They imagined they would move the real buildings themselves," said Adam Arenson, a historian who wrote The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War. "The image is kind of fantastical but also intriguing." As far-fetched as it might seem today to tear down buildings like the U.S. Capitol and the White House and reassemble them hundreds of miles away, the country was all about movement at the time.
"The whole thing is only thinkable in the aftermath of the Civil War, when you have had these kinds of massive logistical innovations and when they’ve moved so many people, but also so much stuff, around on the railroads," said Walter Johnson, a historian at Harvard University.
Despite the efforts of some members of Congress, and multiple conventions focusing on the proposal, the idea never gained widespread traction, and the nation's capital ultimately stayed put.
A second look at St. Louis:
- The ice cream cone was invented after a vendor ran out of cups during the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.
- The 630-foot-tall (192-m) Gateway Arch was designed to sway up to 18 inches (46 cm) during high winds.
- St. Louis hosts one of the nation's biggest Mardi Gras events, in part to honor its French past; the city is named after King Louis IX.