Changes are Coming to the Old Courthouse!
New exhibit galleries, structural enhancement and accessibility improvements: Exciting changes are coming to the Old Courthouse! This week, the National Park Service announced the historic building will undergo renovations in late 2021 that will last approximately two years.
The renovations are part of the final component of the $380-million CityArchRiver project, which has resulted in the revitalization of the Gateway Arch park grounds, Arch Visitor Center, Museum at the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Riverfront, Luther Ely Smith Square and Kiener Plaza. The CityArchRiver project is the largest public-private partnership in the history of the National Park Service.
A project jointly funded by the National Park Service and Gateway Arch Park Foundation, 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). The renovations include:
- Installation of an elevator for greater accessibility within the building, in conjunction with new accessible ramps that were previously installed at both entrances to the building during phase one of the CityArchRiver courthouse renovations
- 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
- New fire suppression system
- General restoration and improvements.
Improvements also include new and updated exhibit galleries are designed by Haley Sharpe Design in conjunction with Gateway Arch National Park staff:
- Northeast Gallery: Dred and Harriet Scott – Focuses on the family’s fight for freedom, which began in the Old Courthouse, and how the legal and political environment at the time culminated in the infamous U.S. Supreme Court Decision. The exhibit gallery also reflects on the legacy and relevancy of their case today.
- Northwest Gallery: Pathways to Freedom – Explores African American life in St. Louis: slavery, the tortured legacy of enslaved individuals seeking freedom, post-Civil War civil rights and more.
- Southeast Gallery: Designed for Justice – Highlights the architectural features of the courthouse and the spirit of innovation of architects, designers, builders and craftsmen.
- Southwest Gallery: See You in Court – Focuses on the importance of courts in our society, our legal structure, and the daily activities in the courthouse from 1839 to 1930. Visitors will be able to experience an 1850s courtroom and re-enact mock trials that will further their understanding of how our court system allows us to settle disputes peacefully and provide a framework for how our society functions.
OLD COURTHOUSE HISTORY
The Old Courthouse has served as the backdrop for some of America’s pivotal early legal cases: It was where Dred and Harriet Scott sued for freedom, beginning in 1846, and where the case’s lower court trials were heard in 1847 and 1850. While the Scotts’ case looms large in the history of the Old Courthouse, St. Louis Circuit Court records show that more than 300 other “freedom suits” were filed there by 1860. In another famous civil rights case, Virginia Minor sued for her, and by extension all women’s, right to vote in the 1870s.