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  • Set on a series of terraces, leading from the Missouri River and rising to Fort Belle Fontaine. This is part of a trail of sorts, at the base a wide earth path tracks along the bank of the river. Where that went, I never found out. Another time.

    The stair makes the steep incline down the river much more manageable for the pedestrian, but why is it here? It seems far too grand for such a setting.

    The answer lies with the WPA - the Works Project Administration (also called the Works Progress Administration). During the Great Depression in the United States, this agency provided work for millions of the long term unemployed. The ultimate stimulus - and one we could well do with again today. One result was the construction of this beautiful staircase on this historic site in 1936.

    Fort Belle Fontaine was originally established in 1805, and very shortly after on 22 September, 1806, it served as the location of the final night of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark and Hunt were made very welcome by their hosts, and must have greatly appreciated the acclaim after completing their 7,500 mile exploration of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers.

    But that was well before this staircase, indeed somewhat before the relocation of Fort Belle Fontaine onto its current overlook on the Missouri River bluffs in 1810.

    These days the site is part State Boys Home and part County Park with what remains of the old fort consisting only of foundations and debris.

    Plus this staircase. As a works project, it must have been most welcome for those desperate for employment. For that alone, it elicits admiration. It also echoes the existential question that Leonard raises in his wonderful story. It looks lonely and not a little forlorn, carrying nothing approaching the traffic such a stairway deserves and indeed would carry were it placed in a less remote location.

    I went there for the first time about two weeks ago and took the photographs that provided the image above (and thanks again to Leonard for suggesting the treatment). I was casting about for how to write about them. Leonard gave me my cue. Read his story.
  • Inspired by this story by Leonard Adams.
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