Photograph by Kathy Erickson, General Services Administration's Design Excellence and the Arts
The Cahokia Courthouse
107 Elm, Cahokia, Ill.
This historic courthouse was originally built around 1740 as a private home; most of its exterior timber is original, and in that respect, it is the oldest home in Illinois. It’s also one of approximately 30 vertical-timber “Creole Vernacular” buildings remaining in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley. The building housed one of three courts established by George Rogers Clark after he seized the area from the British in 1778. Twelve years later, it was selected as the first county courthouse, in the first county seat, in the first county of what later became Illinois. (Belleville, more centrally located, became the county seat in 1814.)
The Jarrot Mansion
124 E. First, Cahokia, Ill.
Cahokia’s Jarrot Mansion is the oldest brick building in Illinois and the finest example of the “frontier Federal” style of architecture. In 1840, a slave named Pete sued Jarrot-family matriarch Julia Jarrot for his freedom and back wages. The resulting Jarrot v. Jarrot decision of December 1845 finally put into effect the clause of the Illinois Constitution that read, “There shall be no slavery or involuntary servitude in the State of Illinois”—thus ending what was known as “the old French slavery.”
The Lyman Trumbull House
1105 Henry, Alton, Ill.
This unassuming, gable-roofed brick home belonged to Lyman Trumbull, an attorney, an anti-slavery statesman, and a U.S. senator whose career was anything but unassuming. He was one of the lawyers who represented slave Pete Jarrot in his freedom suit against Julia Jarrot. Trumbull served on the Illinois Supreme Court from 1848 to 1853. In 1855, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. And 10 years later, he wrote the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, freeing nearly 4 million enslaved people and forever changing America.
Daniel Boone Judgment Tree Memorial
The famous Judgment Tree’s memorial stands directly across state Route 94 from the Matson Trailhead of the Katy Trail. Under the tree that once stood here, legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone enforced the law—tempered by a bit of common sense—as a magistrate for what was then the Spanish colony of Luisiana. Boone was an ideal choice. He had an innate sense of justice and a broad knowledge of the law. Further, he was liked and trusted by Spanish colonial authorities, white settlers, and Native Americans. Boone also served as a magistrate after the Louisiana Territory passed to the U.S. A mural titled Daniel Boone at the Judgment Tree is in the Senate chamber of the Missouri Capitol.
Edward Bates Statue
In the northwest corner of Forest Park, where Lagoon and Fine Arts drives intersect, the Edward Bates statue stands in the center of the traffic circle. Bates always did keep order. He served as a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1820, before becoming the new state’s first attorney general. He was a leading member of the St. Louis bar for decades and was a candidate to be the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 1860. The following year, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him U.S. attorney general, a post he held until 1864. A dozen years later, at the official dedication of Forest Park, his statue was unveiled.
Civil Courts Building
10 N. Tucker
The 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri conducts its business in a replica of the tomb of King Mausolus, built in 352 BCE at Halicarnassus. Our version was built in 1930 and is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, although wonders do transpire in these 10 stories of courtrooms and the law library above them. The stepped-pyramid temple roof is guarded by a pair of 12-foot aluminum creatures with the wings of an eagle, the body of a lion (its chest adorned with the fleur-de-lis of St. Louis), and the face of a woman, symbolizing the quality of human mercy that must temper abstract justice. The building’s architecture has been categorized, not so neatly, as Greco-Egypto-Assyro-Babylonian. It was built as part of St. Louis’ City Beautiful plan, and when it replaced the Old Courthouse in function, descendants of Auguste Chouteau sued in outrage.
Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse
111 S. 10th
The 29-story Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse is one of the nation’s largest courthouses, second only to Chicago’s Richard J. Daley Center. Its namesake was a three-time U.S. senator who never lost an election—and who wrote the bill amendment that cut off funding for the bombing of Cambodia and thus helped end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The courthouse has the nation’s only Judicial Learning Center. A compass rose in its atrium floor symbolizes the far reaches of the Eighth Circuit, and a wave motif runs through the courtrooms, symbolizing the confluence of the rivers. Cases tried here have considered everything from genetically modified rice and InBev beer to fantasy baseball and the NFL lockout.
Monroe County Courthouse
100 S. Main, Waterloo, Ill.
Monroe County was formed in 1816, two years before Illinois became a state. Trials were conducted in taverns until a small wooden courthouse was built in 1834; then–state Rep. Abraham Lincoln gave a rousing campaign speech here on August 25, 1840. In 1853, a regal, classically square brick courthouse was built, and in 1906, wings were added to either side. A century later, a new building was attached, but the exterior windows were left in the old courtroom; they now open onto offices. On the courthouse lawn stands a fountain donated by a young Waterloo woman who became an opera singer; she wanted her town to have the kind of fountain she saw everywhere in Europe. The fountain stood in the center of Main Street to water horses and dogs until the advent of the automobile forced its relocation in 1924.
Judge Enos Clarke House
503 E. Monroe
“Seven Gables” was built in 1913 for Judge Enos Clarke, one of Missouri’s most influential abolitionists. The Kirkwood home is a pristine example of Tudor Revival, with a steeply pitched roof, diamond-shaped windowpanes, stucco and half-timber walls, and a two-story round tower. When it was built, the site was already famous for its gardens. Clarke needed their serenity; he was one of the 70 “Radical Union Men of Missouri” who descended upon President Lincoln to discuss problematic federal policies in Missouri. Clarke was also the first counselor of Kirkwood, and he helped shape his community.
Homer G. Phillips Hospital
Located in the historic Ville neighborhood, this facility is named for St. Louis attorney and local NAACP leader Homer G. Phillips. He championed the fight against legalized segregation in St. Louis city, as well as the fight for a modern hospital for African-Americans. Neither fight was easy, but Phillips persevered in both. The segregation law was blocked by judicial injunction and eventually declared unconstitutional, and political chicanery was thwarted to secure funding for the new hospital. Sadly, Phillips did not live to see the hospital open in 1937. He had been murdered six years earlier, while on his way to work.
11 N. Fourth
The Old Courthouse is a local landmark with immense national importance. For it was from this building that a slave’s freedom suit went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a ruling that not only denied the slave’s freedom, but also set Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders on a collision course that ended in civil war. The slave was, of course, Dred Scott, and the case that bears his name ended with the Supreme Court declaring that African-Americans, whether free or slaves, were not citizens and therefore had no rights, and that slavery could not be prohibited in the western territories. This effectively closed the door on future legal challenges to slavery, leaving the issue to be decided on the battlefield.
Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park
185 W. Trendley, East St. Louis, Ill.
In the early 19th century, this park was an island, sitting in the middle of the Mississippi River between Illinois and Missouri and thus considered free of any legal jurisdictions. It was therefore the perfect place for gentlemen to settle their disputes with pistols, rather than with lawyers. A number of duels were fought here, giving it the name Bloody Island. In the late 1830s, a young captain in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers named Robert E. Lee (yes, that one) ended both the bloodshed and the island itself by connecting it to the Illinois shore with dikes. Thereafter, St. Louis gentlemen were forced to settle their differences in a court of law, rather than on the field of honor.
Leonor K. Sullivan Memorial
St. Louis Riverfront
Old-timers still call it Wharf Street, but the road that runs along the downtown riverfront bears the name Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, and a granite marker honors the former U.S. representative. She was the first woman from Missouri to be elected to Congress, and she served from 1953 to 1977. Because of her legislative leadership, we have the Gateway Arch and its surrounding park, not to mention the St. Louis flood wall. A consumer-rights advocate, she helped create the food-stamp program, and she was the only congresswoman to vote against the Equal Rights Amendment. The “ERA says you are my equal,” she said crisply, but “I think I’m a whole lot better.”
Missouri State Archives–St. Louis
710 N. Tucker, Room 213, by appointment only, 314-588-1746
In the old Globe-Democrat building, documents from the earliest court cases in St. Louis—some written in Spanish, some in French—slowly uncrease in a gentle cleaning and humidification process, after spending two centuries folded in till drawers. There are land disputes and trespass cases, accusations of slander and larceny, a handful of murders, freedom suits by slaves, Native American suits…and then come Civil War disputes and probate documents for the earliest notables, from Adolphus Busch and James Lucas to St. Louis madam Eliza Haycraft. The records span the period from the 1804 Louisiana Purchase to 1875, when the city and county divided. After they are cleaned of mildew and—in the case of later records—the soot and coal dust of industrialization, they are classified, boxed, and sent to Jefferson City to be microfilmed and digitized. The St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project is part of the Save America’s Treasures initiative. When it’s complete, more than 4 million pages of original court documents will be safely preserved and accessible to researchers.