Visitors Guide to the
Old Courthouse
National Historic Site

Broadway & Market Street
St. Louis, MO
314-655-1600

Metered Street Parking or Paid Lots Accessible Interpretive Exhibits Accessible Missouri Historical Site Accessible Scenic Views Accessible Gift Shop Accessible Restrooms MetroLink Station Nearby

   

The Old Courthouse has been the scene of many important events in St. Louis and national history and is one of the city's most prominent architectural landmarks. The Old Courthouse was the site of the two trials where Dred Scott and his wife who sued for their freedom in 1847 and 1850 and where suffragist Virgina Minor sued for the right to vote in 1872. Both cases were ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, which ruled against the Scots and Minor.

In 1816 Auguste Chouteau and Judge John B.C. Lucas donated land to St. Louis County for a courthouse near the St. Louis riverfront. Under the agreement the land was to be "used forever as the site on which the courthouse of the County of St. Louis should be erected." A Federal style brick courthouse, was designed by the firm of Lavielle and Morton, which is reported to be the first architect firm west of the Mississippi River above New Orleans, was completed in 1828 designed by the firm of Lavielle and Morton. Lavielle and Morton also designed the Basilica of St. Louis (the Old Cathedral) and the early buildings at Jefferson Barracks.

By the mid 1830s the needs of the Courthouse had outgrown its capacity due to the population boom in St. Louis caused by the expanding fur trade. Construction on a second courthouse began in 1839. Designed by Henry Singleton as a Greek Revival building with a cruciform plan with and a three-story cupola dome at the center and incorporating the original courthouse as the east wing. Robert S. Mitchell remodeled the Courthouse in the 1850's by replacing the east wing and constructing additions to the north and south. From 1860-1864, William Rumbold replaced the cupola with an Italian Renaissance cast iron dome modeled on St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The United States Capitol dome, which was built at the same time, is also modeled on the Basilica. The dome has four lunettes with paintings by Carl Wimar depicting four events in St. Louis history. Ettore Miragoli painted over them in 1880 but they were restored in 1888.

The building has a temple front on both the east and west wings, with a geometric frieze beneath the cornice. The temple fronts are reproduced on the north and south wings with pilasters and pediments. The building is built of brick and stone, and painted white. The courthouse building was the tallest building in Missouri until 1896 when Union Station was built. The Courthouse was the home of the civil courts of St. Louis County from 1828 to 1876. When the county separated from the city, the city courts remained in the building until 1930.

The Old Courthouse is well known as the starting place for several landmark Supreme Court cases. The Old Courthouse was the site of hundreds of suits for freedom, but one gained notoriety. In 1847, Dred Scott, with his wife Harriet, sued for, and were granted, their freedom. The Supreme Court finally decided the case in 1857 by concluding that slaves were property, and as such, had no right to sue. Although Chief Justice Roger N. Taney believed that the decision settled the question of slavery once and for all it had the opposite effect and hastened the start of the Civil War. The Old Courthouse is listed in the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network To Freedom, which sites, programs and facilities with verifiable associations to the historic resistance to enslavement. In the 1872 Virginia Minor attempted to vote in a St. Louis election and was arrested. Her trials including the deliberations before Missouri Supreme Court were held in the building. The case was eventually appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the male only voting rules.

The courthouse was abandoned in 1930 when the Civil Courts Building was built. Descendents of Chouteau and Lucas filed a lawsuit with the Missouri Supreme Court based upon the original agreement claiming the Old Courthouse and its property should revert back to them because it was no longer used for its original purpose. St. Louis deeded the property to the Federal Government in 1940 after the court ruled against the families. In 1935 St. Louis voted a bond issue to raze nearly 40 blocks around the courthouse for the new Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and President Franklin Roosevelt declared in an Executive Order the area to be a national monument. The National Park Service acquired the property in 1940 and began renovations. A new roof was installed in 1941 and offices were established and museum exhibits displayed by 1943. The roof was rehabilitated, murals restored and a new museum exhibit was introduced in 1979. The exterior was renovated in 1985 and the four St. Louis history galleries were completed in 1986.

Two historic courtrooms on the second floor (photo left) have been restored using original and reproduction furniture. The National Park Service often conducts mock trials, including the Dred Scott trial, at the Old Courthouse with visitors from the audience playing key roles in the reenactment. Four rooms document the history of the St. Louis area with artifacts from the era and large photographs. A theatre features a film entitled "Gateway to the West" that traces the history of St. Louis from its origin as a fur trading post to the center of commerce it is today. The film is open captioned and audio enhancement devices are available for ranger-led programs. The Old Courthouse gift shop has a wide selection of books, tapes, posters and other items relating to St. Louis history.

The Old Courthouse National Historic Site is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion.

Visiting the Old Courthouse National Historic Site
     Visiting Hours
          8 am to 4:30 pm daily.
          Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
There is no charge to visit the Old Courthouse National Historic Site.


Location: The Old Courthouse National Historic Site is located near the riverfront in downtown St. Louis. The Old Courthouse National Historic Site is a short distance from the Busch Stadium MetroLink station.

GPS Coordinates
N  38  37.554
W 90  11.389

Learn more about the St. Louis area.


Old Courthouse National Historic Site - Use the official site of the Old Courthouse National Historic Site for answers to all the questions you may have.

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