Johnson County Missouri was named after Kentucky U.S. Senator Richard Johnson, who later served as Vice President of the United States under President Martin van Buren.
The Johnson County Court moved the location of the courthouse from Old Town on Main Street to New Town on Holden Street in 1875 and erected a temporary structure to serve as the county courthouse. This temporary structure remained in place until 1896 when a fire destroyed it and plans were made to build the structure that you see today.
It took three years to build a new courthouse and construction began in 1896 and ended in 1898. George E. McDonald of Omaha, Nebraska, was selected as the architect for the project and he designed the courthouse in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which became popular and dominated the courthouse architecture of seventeen other court houses constructed in Missouri during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. McDonald utilized sandstone from the Warrensburg sandstone quarries, which were located north of town. Sitting atop the courthouse is a statue of the Roman goddess Minerva, who signifies wisdom and justice.
John M. Anderson from Emporia, Kansas was selected as the contractor for the project and he promised to complete a sandstone constructed courthouse for $49,885, which was the lowest bid out of four contractors who submitted bids. On August 25, 1896, the county hosted a cornerstone laying ceremony for the building and an estimated crowd of 5000.
McDonald and Anderson frequently clashed over the construction of the courthouse and that is one reason why the completion of the project took so long. The court had budgeted $50,000 for the construction of the courthouse but Anderson demanded an additional $585 over the $50,000 to complete the project. Residents of Warrensburg pitched in and raised the additional money to complete the construction.
In January 1898 the county officials moved into their electric-lighted and steam heated courthouse. Probate Judge W. P. Gibson was not pleased with his new office and he sent the county judges a list of 11 reasons why he disapproved of his newly assigned office. Word of Probate Judge W. P. Gibson's concerns filtered out to the residents of Warrensburg and they gathered 1,302 signatures on a petition that supported Judge Gibson's request to change the location of his office. The court granted Gibson's request and the probate office was moved to the first floor room, which was originally assigned to the collector.
Architect McDonald moved to Warrensburg and three other Missouri counties, Andrew, Lawrence, and Bates selected McDonald's Richardsonian Romanesque design for their courthouses. The Johnson County Courthouse is the only one that was designed using Missouri sandstone.