Originally built as a combination federal and state courthouse in 1828, St. Louis’ Old Courthouse serves as a complete time capsule for the city. Over the decades it has experienced dozens of renovations and was the scene of many important rallies and influential speeches.
Today, this 19th-century courthouse showcases several restored courtrooms, educational dioramas and galleries illustrating the history of St. Louis. These exhibitions depict famous moments in the city’s past, including its French beginnings and involvement in westward expansion.
There’s something very humbling about standing in one place and knowing an important decision was made decades before in that very same spot that could have changed the future drastically. In the instance of St. Louis’ Old Courthouse, that decision was Dred Scott v. Sanford.
Also known as the Dred Scott Decision, this 1857 court case ruled that people of African heritage brought into the United States as slaves and their descendants were not protected by the US Constitution, and its verdict helped rally sentiment for President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which inevitably overturned slavery.
The Dred Scott case, however, was not the only major legal trial heard within the walls of the Old Courthouse. Women’s suffrage activist Virginia Minor was also tried here in 1873 when she argued that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.