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The Old Courthouse

Tour Stop

Library of Congress circa 1930 photo looking at the east entrance of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri

Directions: The entrance to the Old Courthouse [ Waypoint = N38 37.533 W90 11.323 ] is located at 11 N Fourth Street in St. Louis, Missouri 63102. The Old Courthouse, itself, occupies the entire block between Fourth and Broadway and Chestnut and Market Streets.

  • Return to your car and get headed east on Market Street.
  • After about 0.5 miles, you should see the Old Courthouse on the left.
  • Find a convenient place to park; you should be able to walk to the next few tour stops.
Photo of one of the dioramas on display at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri Photo of the Dred Scott trial's courtroom on display at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri Dred Scott

Description: The Old Courthouse is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial that is operated by the National Park Service. It was the site of three trials concerning Dred Scott in 1847, 1850 and 1853. One of its court rooms has been restored to reflect how it looked during the Dred Scott trials. There are six dioramas depicting the westward expansion undertaken by the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is also an exhibit devoted to the history of St. Louis from 1764 to the present time. After you have completed your visit of the inside of the Old Courthouse, return to the entrance and stop on the front steps of the Courthouse facing Fourth Street.

Newspaper advertisement for the January 1832 sale of slaves at the courthouse door in St. Louis, Missouri

Each year on New Year's Day, it was the custom in St. Louis to hold a public auction of slaves at the Old Courthouse from the steps on which you are standing. The slaves being auctioned belonged to estates that needed to be settled by the State of Missouri. If a “fair market value” could not be obtained, these estate slaves would be held in the county jail until New Year's Day. The last of these public slave auction took place on the steps of the east entrance on January 1, 1861. Seven slaves had been brought to be auctioned from the steps. Over two thousand people had shown up in order to put an end to the slave auction. Whenever the auctioneer asked for a bid, the crowd shouted, “two dollars, two dollars,” or some other ridiculously low bid over and over. After about two hours of this, the auctioneer gave up and took the slaves back to the jail. This was the last time the auction was ever held on the Old Courthouse steps. [57]

On January 15, 2011, the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation along with the National Park Service sponsored a Slave Auction Reenactment from the top of the Old Courthouse steps in St. Louis. Click on this Google search to view some of the stories posted about this reenactment.

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