At the corner of Third and Jefferson streets in St. Charles is the County’s Historic Courthouse. Often mistaken for the First Missouri Capitol because of its dome and commanding presence, it is now the home of my office, as well as the County Counselor and County Council. This magnificent building took years to complete and is the second of three courthouses in our county’s history.
From statehood in 1821 to the 1840s, the St. Charles County Circuit Court did not meet in a formal location. Court was held in taverns, churches and homes. In 1833, the County bought a house and lot from William Pettus at the corner of Main and Madison streets for $800 to build a courthouse, which was later designed by Solomon Jenkins. The courthouse was built between 1846-1849 for about $9,000. Nearby were the clerks’ offices in small, one-story buildings.1
In February 1849, the Missouri General Assembly passed an act allowing the County to issue $8,000 worth of bonds to build a new and bigger courthouse.2 St. Charles County purchased the site for the new location at Third and Jefferson Streets from the City of St. Charles in 1851 for $223.87. Two modest buildings were immediately constructed, one for the County Clerk and the other for the Circuit Clerk. For years, this location was known as "Clerks' Hill." Construction on the actual courthouse, however, was not as easy. The people of St. Charles County twice defeated proposed bond issues to build the courthouse. In 1888 and 1894, the bond issue proposals lost by heavy margins, and two-thirds approval margins were needed to pass. In 1897, at the request of the St. Charles Merchants Association, the County ignored the popular votes and proceeded with the project, paying for it from surplus County funds 3
The new courthouse was designed in 1898 by prominent architect Jerome B. Legg, who also designed county courthouses in Ste. Genevieve, Gasconade, Mississippi and St. Francois. An appropriation of $25,000 for the building, made in August 1898, put County funds in such a state that the County feared it could not conduct its business. The County then reconsidered Legg's plans, which would have cost an estimated $60,000-$90,000 to build, and decided to defer construction.4
Construction on the new courthouse building did not resume until December 1900, using Legg's design. Due to the slope of the hill, grading was necessary. In January 1901, J. W. Thompson received the contract for foundation, walls and roof for $37,349; the work was to be completed within a year. Cornerstone ceremonies took place on June 12, 1901. Contract for completing the building was awarded Nicholas Pelligreen of St. Louis for $57,000.5 The stone for the building was quarried on site and is the only courthouse Legg built with stone. Even with construction left to complete, the courthouse was occupied by April 1903 and the courthouse at Main and Madison streets was razed. A dedication was scheduled for June 1903, but a major flood of the Missouri River that year led to its cancellation. The new courthouse was totally complete in 1905 but the official dedication wasn’t held until Oct. 31, 1913, for reasons unknown. The total cost of this structure, including land, was $94,582.87.6
The building served not just as a courthouse but as the County’s Administration Building for many years. After construction of the new County Administration Building and the Courts Administration Building on Second Street in St. Charles in the 1990s, major renovations of the Historic Courthouse took place. Some of the challenges in this renovation were lead and asbestos cleanup, making it accessible for persons with disabilities, returning original finishes and colors of the day, and stabilizing painted murals. Some notable features that were conserved from the original courthouse include mosaic floor tiles, wainscoting, granite steps, original wrought iron railings and the exterior dome.7
Today, the building is home to several monuments and has born witness to historical events and major trials in St. Charles County:
- A statue at the front of the courthouse, unveiled on Armistice Day 1920, honors the sacrifices of local soldiers killed in the line of duty during World War I.8 A veterans memorial on the south side of the building was dedicated in 1997, and a memorial for Archbishop San Carlos Borromeo, whom St. Charles is named after, was dedicated on the east side along Second Street in 2003.9
- President William Howard Taft addressed citizens before the 1908 election from the balcony of the courthouse that faces Second Street.10
- Harry S. Truman addressed citizens about The New Deal in 1934.11
- The trial of James Williams, who was found guilty of killing his ex-wife, Sharon Williams, and Walter Scott, a well-known singer in the Bob Kuban Band, was held in 1988.12
Please note: An error in transcribing content from Crossroads into the second bullet above was discovered and corrected. Thank you.
1. Ehlmann, Steve. Crossroads: A History of St. Charles County manuscript, (St. Charles: Lindenwood University Press, 2011), 178-179.
6. St. Charles County, Historic Courthouse brochure, 2015, 3.
8. Ehlmann, Steve. Crossroads: A History of St. Charles County manuscript, (St. Charles: Lindenwood University Press, 2011), 603.
12. Ehlmann, Steve, et. al. The Star Between the Rivers: A History of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department, 1805-2015, (St. Charles: St. Charles County Government, 2015), 121.