We view the present through the past. Whether or not we are conscious of it. And so we see Eero Saarinen’s gleaming, 20th century steel arch through an arched opening in James Eads’ lyrical 19th century span of stone and steel that bridges the Mississippi River at St. Louis; an arched opening that resonates the aqueducts of ancient Rome. History has so much to teach us. We must acknowledge it and honor it, preserving what we can of value and allowing it to temper and inspire our visions of the future.
A brilliant, self-taught engineer, James Buchanan Eads let history mentor him. Then after experimenting, diving, sketching the patterns of currents in the river’s sandy bottom, Eads worked out a triple-arched solution to the need for a bridge connecting Missouri and Illinois at St. Louis; dismissing objections from his professional contemporaries that the scheme was impossible, that he’d never get that elegant span constructed. But he did. Today James Eads’ Bridge is one of the great historic and architectural anchors of St. Louis.