Missouri State Archives
Man's Best Friend:
The Old Drum Story
The Old Johnson County Courthouse
On the Old Town Square in Warrensburg remains the only surviving example of one of the most popular nineteenth century courthouse designs in Missouri. The Old Johnson County Courthouse still stands at its original location on North Main Street and through restoration efforts retains much of its Federal style.
Only four years after Johnson County was created, in 1838, construction was started on the building. William N. Wade was awarded the building contract and Harvey Dyer was designated the supervisor of construction. Martin Warren, for whom the town is named, originally owned the property on which the courthouse sits. One of the three commissioners who chose the site was Daniel Morgan Boone, son of Daniel Boone.
The initial $2500 appropriation was not enough to execute the original plan. To begin with, the plan called for a 44-by-36 foot, two-story brick building with three doors and a cupola (dome-like structure placed on the roof top). Lack of funds required the base to be modified to a 36 foot square and the anticipated cupola was never built.
After a prolonged construction period, the court accepted the building on July 28, 1842. Additional funding brought the final cost of the Old Courthouse to $2800. The entire first story with its brick floor housed the court and the wooden-floored second story contained offices. The exterior of the building was originally red brick, but was covered with buff-colored stucco in 1867.
The courthouse served as a federal garrison during the Civil War and was the center of Johnson County government activity until the railroad came to Warrensburg in 1864. Most of the business district slowly moved several blocks east toward the depot and ultimately a new courthouse was built in that neighborhood. Near the end of its use as a courthouse in 1870, the Old Drum trial took place, during which George Graham Vest delivered his classic speech, Eulogy of the Dog .
After 1871, the Old Courthouse was used as a school, a church, a courthouse again for a year, and finally a private residence during which time it was repeatedly remodeled. In 1965, the Johnson County Historical Society purchased the property and began restoration and preservation efforts guided by the original specifications.
Once again furnished as a courthouse with original items supplemented by period pieces, the building has been restored to its 1870 appearance. The plaque commemorating Vest’s famous speech remains at the entrance to the Old Courthouse.
The building is now part of the Johnson County Historical Society museum complex and is available for tours. The Old Johnson County Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.