St. Louis’s Old Courthouse

19 Apr

by Gemma Tennyson-

St. Louis provides residents and visitors alike many different museums and places of interest. I am slowly trying to make my way to as many of them as possible. My latest stop was at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. This building is historic itself, but it also houses a museum. Visitors can tour the museum exhibits as well as two reconstructed courtrooms from the 1800s for free.

The museum is divided between three different parts of the building. The first exhibit visitors experience is the Dred Scott case. This exhibit shows court documents from the case, but also provides insight into the life of slaves during that time. This exhibit starts in the hallway right inside the western entrance then finishes in a room just off the hallway. This exhibit is really fascinating, especially for its local ties to the city and the primary documents that are used. This exhibit flows easily from the fight of Dred Scott to prominent freed slaves of St. Louis. It also provides visitors with information on other freedom suits. This exhibit was wonderful, but provided visitors with the only court history in the whole museum. The other two exhibits presented St. Louis history. This was a letdown to me personally as I would have liked to learn more about the history of the building and cases that occurred there.

The rest of the museum does a good job of presenting St. Louis history. One side presents the colonial era history of the city whereas the other presents early 20th century information. I personally enjoyed the small displays about the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. I also enjoyed other parts of the 20th century branch of the museum. In this branch, many pictures were used in which visitors familiar with St. Louis could recognize different parts of the city. It was fun for me to see how different areas have changed over the years. On the second floor there are two restored courtrooms on the east and west sides of the floor. Each of these were original rooms, but the furniture was not completely original. The one negative aspect to me is neither courtroom provided any historical text or explanation. Visitors could just walk in about five feet and look around.

The old courthouse building is extremely beautiful inside and out. The courthouse is also a prominent building on the St. Louis skyline that many see in pictures, postcards, and paintings. Soon everything is going to change. There is going to be a huge transformation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial which also will include some changes inside the Old Courthouse. An employee reported while I was there that they will be doing some conservation of the building and redoing all the museum exhibits. This will be a welcomed change for the Old Courthouse.


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