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Preserving History at the Old Courthouse

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Old Court House

The grand architecture of the Old Courthouse at Gateway Arch National Park provides an awe-inspiring setting for the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott case, and where Virginia Minor’s case for a woman’s right to vote came to trial. 

Together with the National Park Service, we are committed to preserving and protecting this historical treasure – both the physical building and the history housed inside it – for future generations. With renovations to the Gateway Arch museum and visitor center, park grounds, St. Louis Riverfront and Kiener Plaza complete, now comes the final component of the $380-million CityArchRiver project: vastly improving the visitor experience at the Old Courthouse.

This will be only the second significant renovation to the Old Courthouse since it was built between 1839 and 1862 (the original building was expanded during this time). Structural updates, which will help revitalize and maintain the building’s integrity, include a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, renovated ceilings and flooring, a new fire suppression system, and general restoration and improvements. Additional renovations include the installation of an elevator for greater accessibility within the building, in conjunction with the wheelchair ramps that were previously installed at both entrances to the building.  

The most visible improvement for visitors will be new and updated exhibit galleries. Designed by Haley Sharpe Design in conjunction with Gateway Arch National Park staff, exhibits will engage visitors with stories about the Old Courthouse and the people who sought justice under its roof, including: 

  • Northeast Gallery: The Dred and Harriet Scott Decision – Focusing both on the human and legal sides of Dred and Harriet Scott’s struggle for freedom – which  began in this courthouse, exploring how the legal and political environment at the time culminated in the  infamous US Supreme Court Decision, as well as reflecting on the legacy and relevancy of their case today.
  • Northwest Gallery: Pathways to Freedom – Exploring slavery in St. Louis, the tortured legacy of enslaved individuals seeking freedom, post-Civil War Civil Rights, and more. 
  • Southeast Gallery: Designed for Justice – Highlighting the architectural features of the courthouse and the spirit of innovation of architects, designers, builders and craftsmen.
  • Southwest Gallery: See You in Court – An interactive space where visitors can explore how courts function by role-playing the various officers of the court, jury members or litigants in a lawsuit.  Wall-mounted exhibits examine the importance of courts in our society and how a case moves through the court system from bringing a suit, to appeals through various court levels, up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Old Courthouse will close to the public in summer 2020, and renovations will begin shortly thereafter. We are eager to embark on this project that will bring new ways to connect with history at the Old Courthouse. Please follow along at ArchPark.org.