Martin Warren, who was originally from Kentucky, established a blacksmith business at the northeast corner of present day College Avenue and East Gay Street sometime in 1833. He also established his residence there and it soon came to be known as Warren's Corner.
The Missouri Legislature authorized the organization of Johnson County in 1834, which was named after Kentuckian, Richard M. Johnson, who had served as Vice President of the United States from 1837 to 1841. A county court was soon established and one of the first acts of the court was to establish a public school.
In 1836 the county commissioners selected the site of the courthouse and the county seat and named it Warrensburg, after Martin Warren. George Tibbs, the county engineer, surveyed Johnson County and the county seat and recorded "Old Town Warrensburg" on May 23, 1837.
"Old Town Warrensburg" included the courthouse that is currently located on north Main, some merchant stores, and a hotel. By 1850 the population of the town was 241 and the town had a flour mill, a carding machine, a foundry, and a woolen mill. For the most part the town was organized around marketing and shippping agricultural products from the surrounding farms.
When the Civil War erupted in Missouri in 1861 most of the economic activity was curtailed. The railroad reached Warrensburg on July 4, 1864, before the war came to a close in 1865. The construction of the railroad did restore some commerce and trade to the town, but the railroad was builit to the East of Old Town and the epicenter of the town gradually shifted to the East and to Clark Street.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the American Missionary Association came to Missouri to establish Freedmen's schools for African American school children. Reverend George Candee identified Warrensburg as a potential site and in January of 1865, Cynthia Ann Reed Briggs arrived in Warrensburg to establish the school.
The school was completed in August of 1867 and was named the Howard School in honor of General Oliver Otis Howard, who was the Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau. The Freedman's Bureau retained title to the building, but the newly created Warrensburg School District oversaw the management of the school.
In 1870 the city's population included 2,447 whites and 498 African Americans. African Americans had settled in and around Warrensburg during the Civil War because Union soldiers were stationed in the area and they chose to remain after the Civil War because of the increased educational opportunities the Howard School provided and because of new work opportunities.
Warrensburg became a destination for travelers seeking to experience the natural springs located near the town. Electric Springs, located north of town, had a mineral springs, a bowling alley, a hotel, and a bathouse. By 1887 streetcars pulled by mules and horses transported visitors to the site. To the south, Pertle Springs, founded by James H. Christopher, had a large hotel that could accommodate at least 300 guests and an auditorium that could accommodate as many as 3000 attendees. Various organizations held their annual meetings at Pertle, which attracted much outside visitation to the town.
Several sandstone quarries, located north of town, also provided additional commerical activity to supplement the town's contributions in agricultural commerce and the commerce generated from serving as a destination for those coming to experience the springs or attend conventions. The sandstone that came from the quarries supported a building boom in the 1880s and 1890s. The stone was not only used locally, but it was shipped out all across the country from the downtown train depot.
In 1871 the growing city added another industry to its portfolio. The state agreed to establish State Normal School District # 2 in Warrensburg, which would train teachers to teach in the state's growing public school system.
It is no surprise that the 1880 census reflected the changes that had come to Warrensburg after the Civil War. The 1880 census reported that the population of Warrensburg had increased to 4,049. Also, the number of students enrolled at Normal No. 2 was on the rise. Between 1881 and 1891 the average number of students enrolled stood at 542 and by 1901 the average number had increased to 865.