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Old Courthouse

The historic Old Courthouse is located in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It is one of St. Louis’s most-prominent architectural landmarks of the past 150 years. The courthouse was built in 1828 and became a central location for government business. It enjoys the reputation of being the finest federal-style building in the city and state. In 1847, Dred Scott, with his wife Harriet, sued for their freedom, which was granted in the Old Courthouse. Following numerous appeals, the case was accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Its decision held that slaves were property and they had no right to sue. The decision spurred the beginning of the Civil War. The court in St. Louis also is famous for suffragist Virginia Minor’s case*, in which a woman’s right to vote came to trial in the 1870s. The courthouse has played an interactive role with the community for many years. In the 19th century, the rotunda was a stage for lectures, meetings, and political events. It was a public forum as well as a courthouse. Slaves also were auctioned on the steps. Abolitionists and slavery advocates held rallies in the courthouse to debate the slavery issue. The courthouse also is listed in the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The St. Louis Old Courthouse serves as a historic repository to learn more about the 19th-century judicial system. The interior walls of the courthouse display four murals rendered by Carl Wimar, which depict explorer Hernando de Soto discovering the Mississippi River, Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau founding St. Louis, the British attack on St. Louis during the War of Independence, and Cochetopa Pass, through which St. Louisians proposed to have a railroad line run to San Francisco, California. In the Rotunda, visitors will encounter the exhibit Dred Scott, Slavery and the Struggle to Be Free. The exhibit describes several aspects of African-American society and culture, from slavery to free black business owners, to the "colored aristocracy" of rich landowners. The Old Courthouse is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park. Made up of the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and the Old Courthouse, the national park reflects the spirit of the country's pioneers, and stands in tribute to Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States.

*In 1872, Virginia Minor had been barred from registering to vote in St. Louis on the basis of a Missouri law restricting the right of suffrage to men.