Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Webpage: National Park

General Description: As of the summer of 2018, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial has been moved into a new museum under the Gateway Arch.  However, it still consists of the Old Courthouse.  This Historic Landmark was the St. Louis Courthouse from 1862 until 1930 when the new Civil Courts building was completed six blocks away.  The courthouse is a four-winged structure with a central dome reflecting the 19th century architectural style known as Greek Revival.  The interior beauty matches the dignity of the exterior with a series of Greek Revival columns and pilasters between four ornamental balconies under the circular dome.  Multiple artists have adorned the dome’s interior with painted frescoes and murals.  During the time of the great westward migrations, the courthouse was a gathering place for people heading west.  Early wagon trains were organized and outfitted around the courthouse before heading west.  It provided a forum for citizens to voice and debate important local and national issues.  Among the many cases heard in the courthouse, the most notable was the beginnings of the landmark Dred Scot Case.  In 1846, a slave family initiated a lawsuit for their freedom.  Initially the case was not considered newsworthy and the lower court granted freedom on the basis that the family had been moved to live in free states during postings of Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon.  However, the ruling was appealed by his widow, Irene Emerson to the Missouri State Supreme Court who overturned the decision.  Finally, in 1857 the case came before the US Supreme Court and Chief Justice Roger Taney rendered the Dred Scott Decision that Dred Scott and his family should remain in slavery and, more importantly, that the Constitution guaranteed property rights of citizens and slaves were not citizens, but property.  This decision also called into question the legitimacy of the Missouri Compromise which restricted slavery in the Wisconsin Territory.  This reaction helped moved the country to the Civil War.  Ironically, in 1850, Irene Emerson sold Dred Scott and his family back to Taylor Blow who originally owned Dred Scott and had paid for most of his legal fees over the years, still considering them part of his extended family.  Taylor Blow immediately freed Dred Scott and his family in St. Louis’ Old Courthouse, unfortunately Dred died a year later although as a freed man.

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Impressions:

1) The Old Courthouse is a very impressive building both inside and out.  The central dome and iron staircases are magnificent with the many murals and frescoes on the walls.  Even the reconstructed courtrooms to the east and west of the central dome are impressive with their own smaller domes.

2) Prior to the summer of 2018, this was the site of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial with exhibits about the western expansion that began at St. Louis.  Now these exhibits have been vastly improved and are now housed under the Gateway Arch.  Consequently, most of the exhibits within the courthouse were in the process of being removed.  However, there are still worthwhile exhibits about the Dred Scott Case that are very informative, including a nice video about the case.

3) There are also some very nice exhibits about the history of St. Louis that includes some surprising facts.  For instance, I was not aware that St. Louis was actually the site of the western most battle of the American Revolution.  The Battle of St. Louis, also called the Battle of Fort San Carlos, was a one day battle in 1780 when Indians led by the British simultaneously attacked the newly constructed fortifications of Fort San Carlos, a Spanish fort in St. Louis and a former British colonial outpost at Cahokia occupied by Patriot Virginians.  Both attacks were repulsed.

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