Warrensburg History

This short document contains a list of numerous happenings that took place in Warrensburg during the frontier days of the 1800s. Though thousands of events occurred, following is a handful of standouts that will help people have some background on Warrensburg’s creation and on the lives of early settlers.

1st Ownership

The United States of America took possession of the land now referred to as Warrensburg as part of the amazing contractual agreement President Thomas Jefferson made with France called the Louisiana Purchase. Further treaties were made with the Osage Indians (around 1808) as very little trouble ever really existed between Indians and settlers in this area.

1st Permanent Resident (of Johnson County)

Just one generation after the Revolutionary War, Pleasant Rice would lead an 1818 hunting expedition into the area that would later be named Warrensburg. He would later live off the land and become the first permanent citizen of the county.

1st Hunted Animals

Like Pleasant Rice, the earliest visitors to the area would be game hunters seeking a certain type of skin or prize. Early hunted animals in this time period include: badgers, deer, foxes, mink, muskrats, panthers, partridges, prairie chickens, quail, raccoons, rodents, turkeys, weasels, and much, much more.

1st Trails

The Osage Trail ran from Osage to Post Oak and specifically followed a path from Lexington to Warrensburg which is now known as Highway 13. This trail led early pioneers from their boat landings in Minutemen country south to the fertile lands located in Warrensburg. Another unnamed route followed what is today called Highway 50 while at least three other major trails were present in the county.

1st County Name

Johnson County was initially formed in 1834 and named in honor of a famous politician. Though many people would initially suggest President Andrew Johnson, those people would be incorrect for Johnson would not become president until the Lincoln Assassination following the Civil War. Instead, the county was named after lesser known Richard Mentor Johnson, a senator from Kentucky.

1st Official Land Purchase

On May 9, 1836, a handful of original founding fathers authorized the purchase of the land area that would eventually become called Warrensburg in honor of Martin Warren, the first man to settle in the area. Contrary to popular belief, Warren was not tremendously in favor of creating a township in this area but eventually decided to sell some of the farm land he owned.

1st Boundaries

On October 3, 1836, the township line of Warrensburg was drawn up from the north county line to the south county line. The original boundary lines were 12 miles wide on the south and 10.5 miles wide on the north. The boundary distance measured an incredible 26 miles distance which made the original area of Warrensburg more than 260 square miles. Over time, small pieces have been chopped away to create cities and towns decreasing total area to the current 64 square miles people live in today.

1st Prices

In 1830, Johnson County land was free to anyone would file claim to a specific plot or acreage. Prices would eventually spring up to $1 to $5 an acre and eventually increase to as much as $5 to $15 an acre by the 1850s. Yet, land pricing would remain rather inexpensive until the outbreak of the Civil War.

1st Name

Martin Warren, a blacksmith by trade, had a centrally located house that was not difficult to discover. Prairie residents would repeatedly stop by at the Warren house to inquire information about settlements, laws, and other people. This stopping place was initially referred to as Warren’s corner. Over time Warren’s corner, became Warren’s Corner, which became Warren’s burg, and eventually became the current name Warrensburg.

1st Child Born

When the cold air came down from the north in 1836, Warrensburg officially had its first baby when Henry Porte Renick was born just 11 days before Christmas on December 14. He would become a prominent citizen in the area and a merchant in Holden. President Grover Cleveland would appoint Renick Holden postmaster for a four year term.

1st Hotel

After E.W. Berry built a large log house complete with 6 rooms, Warrensburg had its first hotel. The first official court was held in the hotel and during the Civil War it was used as a hospital and a guard house. If a person wanted to eat breakfast or any other meal, Berry’s charge was just a dime.

1st Store

The first store was opened by W. Davis & Company on the East Side of the square late in 1836. However, about a year earlier, an older bachelor named John Evans who would later become the first postmaster, opened the first store in the vicinity of Warrensburg.

1st Official Courthouse

In 1838, planners and laborers began the first massive construction project in Warrensburg with their vision to create an extremely stable courthouse. The all brick building was two feet thick on the bottom with about a six inch width near the top. Upon completion of the building, a brick mason identified only with the first name of Wade was so overjoyed to be done that after the last brick was layed on the chimney, he performed some type of enthusiastic dance and stood on his head even though he was partially crippled. The building would be used until 1875 and doubled as a school and church.

1st Organization (excluding Churches)

Under the incomparable leadership of early city leader Benjamin W. Grover, the Masonic Lodge was founded in Warrensburg. Grover would eventually become the grandmaster and actually travel on horseback to visit each and every lodge in the entire state of Missouri. For the record, the oldest church in Johnson County was a Methodist church in Blackwater which began in 1829.

1st Newspaper

In the 1850s, Wes Stephenson created the first newspaper, a handwritten paper intended to be placed in central locations in order to get specific news out to townspeople. Every week, Stephenson would create 5 or 6 copies of the Warrensburg Clipper and placed them in store windows. On a side note, Sephenson (or “Uncle Billy” as many people referred to him) also ran a saloon where a small squad of bushwhacker gangs used to meet. Though not officially a lawbreaker, Uncle Billy’s saloon caused enough trouble to earn himself a reputation and a small place in the history annals of Warrensburg. Like all frontier towns this should not be surprising. Since as early as 1840, six whiskey distilleries operated in Johnson County.

1st 750

By frontier standards, Warrensburg grew rather rapidly as more and more settlers went west to seek their fortune and their future. In 1855, less than 20 years after the official creation of Warrensburg, the population exceeded 750 people. In that same year, people desired to incorporate their village and the measure was eventually signed into law on the 23rd day of November, 1855.

1st Town Election

On the first Monday of April 1856, less than one year after Warrensburg incorporated, the city held their first official election. The first mayor was named Dr. John Foushee and the first council consisted of William H. Anderson, James M. Bratton, Dr. William Calhoun, and Alexander Marr. The first county court would take place about three months later in August.

1st Sheriff (of Johnson County)

When Simon Cockrell trekked his family across the country from his Kentucky home to Warrensburg, little did he realize that his young boy Joseph Cockrell would become the first sheriff of Johnson County. Simon would eventually own 1000 acres of some of the best land in the county.

1st Major Fire

Numerous business owners dropped a tear on a sad night back in 1866. As fire spread from building to building, a large portion of the business district burned down to heaps of rubble. Just seven years later, a coal oil lamp exploded which started the second massive fire in Warrensburg’s short history. The Ming Hotel, located beside the Railroad on the East Side of Holden Street became a towering inferno. Three people burned to death in the flames and others barely escaped alive. Other buildings burned down beside the Hotel while Warrensburg business owners finally decided to create their buildings out of stone.

1st 900

About 40 years after Martin Warren’s pilgrimage to our city, rapidly expanding Warrensburg had a population that exceeded 900 people. Amazingly, this number is roughly the same amount of people St. Louis had living in their city 40 years after their foundation.

1st County Seat Battle

In 1872, Elhanan Roop and George Washington of Centerview attempted to pass through county legislation a major move that would have moved the county courthouse from Warrensburg into neighboring town of Centerview. Most of the people of the county living outside Warrensburg had signed the petition and Warrensburg became frightened over the possibility of losing the county’s capitol. Though the petition was presented to court, for some strange reason, Roop and Washington removed their request in the afternoon. The courthouse still sits in Warresburg today.

1st Quarries

Sandstone, a highly durable gray stone and a somewhat unusual geological formation, was found in Warrensburg. Jacob, Peter, and Anton Pickle opened up the quarry mines in Warrensburg in 1871 and put our city on the map when it came to rock mining. The Warrensburg Sandstone, which initially was cut by hand, helped supply the raw materials for various buildings in St. Louis, Kansas City, and was even the main rock used in the creation of the State Capitol Building in Little Rock, Arkansas. The quarries were located north of the city (in the area that eventually became the Garden of Eden Pool) and was shipped to town by a rail spur linked to the Missouri Pacific Line.

1st Capitol

Veteran Union Soldier and influential newspaper editor who helped locate Normal School Number 2 in Warrenburg, E. Baldwin, created a plan that would have put Warrensburg on the national map. He advocated that our country should create a new state and name it West Missouri. Since Missouri was so divided during the Civil War, he believed a complete separation could help settle differences between the Blue and the Gray. In his plan, which never did carry much merit in Washington, Major Baldwin would have been easily elected as the first governor and Warrensburg would have become the first, and only, capitol.

1st City of Warrensburg License Plates

With the increasing number of motor vehicles across the country, City Ordinance #51 was passed on November 6, 1923. The ordinance required motor vehicles residing in Warrensburg to pay a license tax and appears to have taken effect in 1924. This required owners of motor vehicles residing in Warrensburg to display it on the left side of the motor vehicle. Violations for non-compliance were steep at the time—a fine between $10 and $25—which would be between $140 and $350 in 2016.

1925 Warrensburg License Plate

1925 Warrensburg Missouri License Plate

1929 Warrensburg License

1929 Warrensburg Missouri License Plate

These license plates can be viewed in the lobby at 102A South Holden, Warrensburg, MO. Both plates were a gift to the City of Warrensburg from Terry Hammer, Proprietor of www.shoplicenseplates.com