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Old Courthouse, St. Louis

We visited the Old Courthouse in St. Louis on August 30, 2019. It is much larger than this photos appears. You can see the Civil Courts Building (courthouse 2 out of 3) in this photo in which my great-grandfather John Finlay was the head carpenter during the construction. The two courthouses are close together.

I do not ever remember being here before 2019. It is so grand! It is maintained by the National Park Service. As I had ancestors in St. Louis at the time, I often wonder if they watched some of the slave auctioning on the courthouse steps. How were they moved or influences by the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott case held in this courthouse?

So many of my ancestors stood on these grounds and nearby grounds. The Old Courthouse stands right in front of the St. Louis Arch where my ancestors, Nicholas Marechal and Marie Jean Illeret, as original settlers of St. Louis, were the first owners by a verbal land grant from LaClede himself where the north leg of the arch now stands. As referenced on their page, Marie Jean sold the property to M. Duralde and the legal description indicates the real estate "bounds the ground of Madame Chouteau". Of course, at that time the land where the Old Courthouse now stands contained something else as the Old Courthouse as the land for the courthouse was donated in 1816 by Judge John Baptiste Charles Lucas and St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau, requiring the land be "used forever as the site on which the courthouse of the County of St. Louis should be erected." The Federal style courthouse was completed in 1828.

Missouri became a state in 1821 and the population tripled in 10 years necessitating the need for a new courthouse which the construction of began in 1839. The new courthouse was in the Greek Revival style and included four wings. The east wing had a three-story cupola dome at the center and in 1851 it was torn down and replaced. From 1855 to 1858, the west wing was remodeled and the famous Dred Scott citizenship case was heard in the west wing before the remodeling.

The Old Courthouse withstood the great fire on May 17, 1849, which destroyed 418 buildings on 15 blocks.

My ancestors Johann Heinrich Michel & Maria Siebert (John & Mary Michel) lived and spent most of their lives in America on Market Street. John and Mary arrived about 1850 and would have seen the Old Courthouse surrounded by the destruction of the fire. The 1866 City Directory lists John Michel with a business name of (Michel & Seibke) at rear 576 Market Street, which has a nearby view of the Old Courthouse, so from their business, and possible their home, they could see activity at the Old Courthouse. I wonder whether they witnessed slave auctions, although they were on the east side of the building and they may have had to walk a short bit to watch it. As Germans, they would not have approved of slavery. Surely they followed the news of the Dred Scott case from 1846 to1857. By 1876 they are living and working down the street 2024 Market. The Old Courthouse is not visible, but still nearby to be aware of or see activities. The lived here until their deaths near the turn of the century.

In 1861 the cupola was replaced with an Italian Renaissance cast iron dome modeled on St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The United States Capitol dome was built at the same time, during the Civil War, and is also modeled on the basilica. The St. Louis dome was completed in 1864 and Karl Ferdinand Wimar painted the murals in the rotunda.

The last slave auction held at the Old Courthouse was in1861. A common practice at all Missouri courthouses was slave auctions by the Probate Court for those who died without a will or those who declared bankruptcy. In St. Louis these auctions were near the East door.

In 1684, my ancestor, Regis Marechal (Richard Marshall) was tried for murder in Potosi and was taken to St. Louis County jail. At that time, the jail was located in from of the Old Courthouse which is today Kiener Plaza Park. I believe the appeal and pardon involved judges in the Old Courthouse. There is much detail and information to read on my website pages about Richard.

In 1877 St. Louis County split off of St. Louis City, which became an independent city, and the courthouse became the property of the City. In 1930 the Civil Courts Building was built down the street and the courthouse was abandoned. The descendants of Chouteau and Lucas sued to regain ownership. In 1935 the City made plans to use the 40 blocks around the courthouse for the Gateway Arch National Park and the courthouse became part of the new monument in 1940. My great-grandparents, John and Erna Finlay, came to St. Louis when John got a job as the head carpenter in the construction of the Civil Courts Building.

The east wing was later restored to 1910 historic style as Circuit Court #13 and the west wing was later restored to 1850 historic style as Circuit Court #4. The courthouse was the tallest building in Missouri until Union Station was built in 1896 and thereafter until the arch was built in 1965.

This is looking down the street from the Old Courthouse which gives a visual of how close the two courthouses are located as you see the Civil Courts Building in this photo.

This is the Civil Courts Building (courthouse 2 out of 3) which John Finlay helped to construct as the head carpenter.

This is Kiener Plaza Park which is where the St. Louis County Jail was located and Regis Marechal (Richard Marshall) resided after being convicted of murder. This is also where he saved the deputy jailers during a prisoner escape which led to his pardon.

I can imagine Michel & Seibke being written on the side of one of these buildings.

You can see the Civil Courts Building through the window in the stairwell.

You can also see the arch through the window in a stairwell on the other side of the building.

We did go as far up as we could go in the building. Here you can see the arch through the skylight.

I did not get close-ups of the paintings, but they were fabulous and something I was in awe of.

We did walk over the arch and I took some photos looking back at the courthouse. This would be the east side of the courthouse where the slave auctions were held.

This is the north leg of the arch and the property owned by my ancestors Nicholas Marechal and Marie Jean Illeret.

I had to get up close and personal with the north leg of the arch!

This would be looking each from the north leg of the arch so you can see how close my ancestors lived to the Mississippi River.

That north leg of the arch again! It's hard to imagine Nicholas Marechal and Marie Jean Illeret owning this for the first time and living here.



Copyright Cheryl Rutledge-Brennecke
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