In 1833 Martin Warren constructed a residence and opened a blacksmith shop at the corner of present-day College Avenue and East Gay Street and unofficially named it "Warren's Corner," which eventually came to be known as Warrensburg. The Missouri Legislature organized Johnson County in 1834 and, two years later, in 1836, a post office was established. In 1837 George Tibbs platted "Old Town Warrensburg" and in 1838 the construction began on the Johnson County Courthouse.
The 1838 construction resulted in a two-story, red brick Federal-style building that still faces Main Street. The courthouse anchored this area, which quickly saw the construction of several businesses. In 1842 the city's first masonry constructed building to house a general store was erected on the northeast corner of the square at the intersection of Main and West Gay Street. It too is still present on the landscape.
The area around the courthouse came to be known as Old Town Warrensburg. In 1850 the population of Warrensburg was 241 and in 1855 the Missouri Legislature incorporated Warrensburg as a town. The small community continued to develop and spread east and by 1860 the population had risen to 982. The local economy was primarily agriculturally based and Warrensburg was on its way to becoming an important buying and selling point for the county's agricultural products.
In July of 1864 the Missouri Pacific Railroad reached Warrensburg, which forever changed the development of the town. A railroad depot was constructed about a half a mile southeast of the courthouse and the development of the town shifted from Old Town to what came to be known as New Town.
The courthouse in Old Town still remained in use during this transition period where the town was shifting from Old Town to New Town and it was during this period that one of the most famous cases was tried in the Historic Johnson County Courthouse on Main Street.
In 1869 Leonidas Hornsby killed a dog who was apparently harassing his sheep. That dog, owned by Hornsby's neighbor and brother-in-law, Charles Burden, was Old Drum. Burden sued Hornsby and after several losses, Burden took the case to the Johnson County Court of Common Pleas. Burden retained the legal services of George Graham Vest who on September 23, 1870, delivered what came to be known as his famous speech titled "Eulogy of the Dog" or "A Tribute to a Dog" to the jury making an appeal for Leonidas Hornsby to compensate Charles Burden for the loss of Old Drum. (The eulogy can be found at the end of this entry.) The tribute worked and the court ordered Hornsby to pay Burden $25 for the loss of Old Drum.
The development of New Town continued in the 1870s and the population of the town more than doubled in size from 982 in 1860 to 2,945 in 1870. In 1875 the County Court decided to move its operations to New Town where they opened a temporary courthouse structure on Holden Street. The temporary structure became permanent with the construction of the present day 1898 courthouse. The county court sold the Old Town Courthouse to the German Evangelical Church in 1878 and in later years the church sold it and it became a private dwelling. The Johnson County Historical Society acquired the building in 1965 and restored it to its 1830s period and now maintains it.
George G. Vest delivered the "Eulogy of the Dog" on September 23, 1870
"Gentlemen of the Jury. The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is the dog.
Gentlemen of the jury, a man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.
When all other friends dessert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws and his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death."
U.S. Congress, Senate, Congressional Record, 101st Congress., 2nd Session., pp. S4823-24 (daily edition).