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Lewis and Clark tower gives bird's eye view of the Confluence

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2010 - The 180-foot Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower in Hartford, Ill., is now open, offering panoramic views of the meeting place of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers from a site close to where the exploration team of captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped for the winter before setting off on that grand trek westward 206 years ago.

The sleek concrete structure has three viewing platforms -- at 50 feet, 100 feet and 150 feet.

And explorer-wannabes won't need their hiking boots any more: This trip to view the confluence is an easy one. The tower has both an elevator and stairway, and the platforms have safety fences that don't spoil the view but will keep acrophobics from getting too nervous. A small visitors center offers information about the confluence, as well as facts about the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.

The reviews have been good, so far, from the local river watchers, Great River Road travelers and even foreign tourists who have taken the guided tours to the top since the tower opened in mid-May, said Deanna Barnes, project manager for the village of Hartford, which owns and operates the site.

"It's been very positive; people are really enjoying the view," Barnes said.

The opening is a bit behind schedule; the tower was conceived as Hartford's way of commemorating the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 2004. The tower is located on 4.5 acres, about a mile north of the Lewis and Clark Historic Site that commemorates Camp Dubois, where the Corps of Discovery prepared for its journey to chart the Louisiana Territory.

Though the tower missed the national bicentennial celebration by six years, you have to hand it to little Hartford for completing its think-big project at all. The little refinery town, located on Illinois Route 3 between Alton and Granite City, has a population of about 1,500.

Barnes said it took some time to gather the $5 million in local, state and federal funds to pay for the project. She credits perseverance and cooperation from a host of groups and governments for completing the tower.

Visitors need to know that trips to the top are by guided tour only and take about 30 minutes, said Emily Taul, tower manager.

About 1,700 people have taken the tours since the structure opened on May 14, she said.

Here are some more fun facts about the tower from the website:

  • The structure was designed by KAI of St. Louis.
  • The tower is supported by 64 pilings sunk 65 to 85 feet into bedrock.
  • It took 20,599 cubic yards of concrete -- about 3,433 truckloads -- to build.
  • On a clear day, visitors can see downtown St. Louis and the north leg of the Gateway Arch, about 19 miles to the south.
  • The tower has two legs -- one named for Lewis and one for Clark.
Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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