The Old St. Louis County Courthouse, Missouri’s tallest habitable building from 1864 to 1894, first began construction in 1816. Serving as a federal and state courthouse, the land it is built on was donated by Judge John Baptiste Charles Lucas and St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau Lucas. The Old Courthouse was home to many notable cases, particularly slave cases, during operation. In 1877, it became city property until abandoned in 1930. In the following years, it went through many restorations and renovations to now become a historical architectural masterpiece.
History of the Old Courthouse, Saint Louis, MO
After Missouri became a state in 1821 and population flourished, a courthouse was needed in the St. Louis area. Using the donated land, a Federal Style courthouse was constructed in 1828. The population then tripled in St. Louis, however, and renovations to the courthouse needed to be made. Henry Singleton designed the courthouse expansion plans in a Greek Revival Style. The plan split the courthouse into four wings, one of which was comprised of the original courthouse.
Later down the line, in 1851, renovations were once again needed. Robert S. Mitchell planned the redesign this time around, deciding to tear down the east wing and replace it. Then, from 1855 to 1858, he remodeled the west wing that would later be the spot of the Old Courthouse’s most famous case.
More renovations were made in 1861, particularly to the dome in the center of the courthouse. Three years later, The St. Louis dome was completed and Karl Ferdinand Wimar was hired to paint murals in the Old Courthouse, adding to its beautiful architectural design.
In 1877, St. Louis county and city split, making the Old Courthouse city property. Not much was done with it, however, as the last slave auction held there took place in 1861. In 1930, the Old Courthouse was abandoned. Five years later, the city voted to construct the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which would include the Old Courthouse. In 1940, the Old Courthouse officially became part of the new memorial. The roof was first replaced in 1941, then undergoing renovations in 1955, 1985 and 2010.
Among the many cases that took place in the Old Courthouse, the most notable is that of Dred Scott. In 1846, Scott, who was a slave, sued for the freedom of him and his wife as they were living in free states. While the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately settled the case in 1857, all of the trials were held in the Old Courthouse.
In 1872, the case of Virginia Minor, who fought for women’s right to vote, took place in the Old Courthouse. Everything from her trails to deliberations was held inside the courthouse doors.
The Old Courthouse is open to the public year round. Entry is free for all and hours can be found on the Gateway Arch’s official website. For the winter season, the Old Courthouse is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A gift shop has been constructed within the Old Courthouse where visitors can purchase a large array of books, videos, apparel and educational toys related to St. Louis and African-American history.
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