TwHP Lessons

The Old Courthouse in St. Louis:
Yesterday and Today

[Cover photo] The Old Courthouse
(Photo by Beth Boland)

All persons intending to emigrate to Oregon are requested to meet at the Court House (in conjunction with citizens friendly to the cause) on Thursday evening next, the 7th inst., at half past seven o'clock.
(St. Louis Daily People's Organ, April 5, 1843)

Throughout the 19th century the Old Courthouse in St. Louis served not only as a house of justice, but also as a public gathering place for pioneers planning their westward trek across the plains. Thirteen courtrooms were in use from 1845 until 1930. The courthouse dominated the city's skyline until the turn of the 20th century, when skyscrapers rose to challenge it. The iron-framed dome was the forerunner of many similar domes erected on government buildings throughout the country. For many years the courthouse rotunda was one of the largest and most ornate rooms in St. Louis, and it was used for many city activities.

An editorial in the Missouri Republican of May 2, 1855 read, "the well adapted to popular assemblies. No room of the same dimensions in the city is better suited to the voice. In the upper tiers every word uttered with common force is plainly distinguishable." At a time when commercial amusement was limited, public events held at the courthouse were well attended. Debates, speeches, and even court proceedings were considered forms of entertainment. This 19th-century courthouse brought national concerns to the people and provided a forum where they could actively participate in the shaping of their country's future.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. The U.S., 1819
 2. St. Louis, 1843
 3. Major railroads, 1860
 4. Major railroads, 1900

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Railroad: A National Controversy
 2. The Dred Scott Trial
 3. The Significance of the Dred Scott Trial

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. The Old Courthouse
 2. The Old Courthouse and the
 St. Louis skyline today

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Locating a Railway
 2. Examining Trials
 3. Local and National Connections
 4. Historic Preservation

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Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

This lesson is based on the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.




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