Warrensburg, MO (WAR)
The historic depot, constructed in 1889 of light grey sandstone, is located in the heart of downtown and is only a few blocks north of the University of Central Missouri campus.
100 South Holden Street
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 13,812
- Facility Ownership: City of Warrensburg
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Warrensburg
- Platform Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
- Track Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Warrensburg station is located in the heart of downtown and is only a few blocks north of the campus of the University of Central Missouri. Linking St. Louis and Kansas City, the Missouri River Runner glides through the picturesque towns and landscapes that embellish the interior of the state. To highlight 30 years of state-supported passenger rail service, Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation sponsored a 2009 contest to rename the trains (formerly the Ann Rutledge and Missouri Mules). The winning entry—the Missouri River Runner—reflects the fact that the route often parallels the Missouri River, ending and beginning at riverfront cities.
Opened to service in December 1889, the Warrensburg depot has been a steady presence in the lives of numerous generations of townspeople. Composed of the original one-story structure plus a later addition erected to the west, the depot was built with light grey sandstone quarried north of town. The walls of coursed, rock-faced ashlar give the building a strong textural quality; as the sun passes over the surface, it creates an evolving pattern of light and shadow. The third course from the ground protrudes slightly to form a water table at the level of the window sills.
The original building is divided into four distinct parts. A central pavilion is flanked by smaller, identical recessed wings that draw attention to the height of the pavilion. Attached to the western wing is another slightly smaller volume that features a classical, tripartite thermal or “Diocletian” window. The central pavilion is marked by prominent gabled bays on the track and street facades. Each bay is punctuated by three ground floor windows capped by a tripartite ventilation screen that mimics the look of a thermal window. The round arch of the louvered screen is accentuated by a band of stones while the wall surface below the screen is decorated with a run of stones in which every other block is recessed. Coping executed in smooth, finished sandstone caps each gable. Projecting onto the platform, the trackside central bay has windows on all three sides that would have allowed the station master to look out and monitor traffic along the rails.
The wings are topped by hipped roofs that intersect the steeply pitched roof of the central pavilion. On the east façade, two projections on the upper wall are most likely the remnants of tall chimneys which once rose above the roofline but were removed by the 1950s. A canopy supported by large brackets runs the length of the platform and serves to protect waiting passengers from inclement weather. In 1984, the depot was enlarged by the addition of a low, narrow baggage room on the west end of the building. It was clad in a stone veneer that approximates the sandstone of the original depot but shows clear distinctions in color and pattern. As the canopy extends along this addition, it widens substantially and sports a shallow gabled roof held up by posts with brackets.
Overall, the use of large, rock-faced stones and prominent arched openings recall the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, a Boston architect known for an oeuvre characterized by squat, compact buildings usually constructed with unfinished stone in dark red, tan, brown, and gray hues. The asymmetrical compositions were often pierced by deep-set, round arches reminiscent of Medieval Romanesque structures found in Europe; polychrome decoration was also a common feature. Richardson’s work would influence a generation of architects practicing in the late 19th century.
The exterior of the depot has not changed greatly over the last century except for the removal of chimneys and the conversion of the arched eastern window into a doorway sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. Although the interior space was remodeled in the 1960s to include new light fixtures and flooring, by 1972 the station was closed to the public. A decade later, the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce formed a “Depot Renovation Group” to investigate the possibility of restoring the depot to accommodate its offices and a passenger waiting room.
The group raised $300,000 in part by selling a limited edition print of the depot created by a local artist; Chamber members also dressed up in period railroad clothing to attract attention to the history of the structure. The depot was rededicated in 1990 and the Chamber of Commerce office and the Amtrak waiting room opened for business in 1992. The Visitors’ Bureau later moved in and the western addition was transformed into a meeting space available to civic and business groups. Routine maintenance is necessary for any historic structure and therefore the Depot Renovation Group remains active.
When Europeans first visited this area of Missouri, it was occupied by the Osage and Kansa American Indians who had moved west from the lower Ohio River Valley in the early 17th century. The Osage and Kansa peoples spoke similar languages descended from the Dhegian-Siouan linguistic family; intermarriage was common.
After initial contact with French explorers in the late 17th century, a fur trade was established between the Osage and Kansa and the French colonists in the Ohio Valley and along the Mississippi River. The American presence was not felt until the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which gave the young nation control over the immense territory drained by the Mississippi River. As the European-American population grew, its westward expansion in turn pushed tribes further west. The rich soils of Missouri attracted American settlers by the 1820s, and through a series of federal treaties between 1808 and 1825, the Osage and Kansa gave up their claims to much of the land in present day Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas and were forced to locate on reservations.
The township of Warrensburg was organized in October 1836 in an area known for its fertile land. Many of the original settlers came from Tennessee and Kentucky, including Martin Warren. Born in Virginia in 1763, he had fought in the Revolutionary War. Similar to many other frontier adventurers, he continually migrated westward over his lifetime. About 1833, Warren became one of the first settlers in what later became Warrensburg; a blacksmith, his services were sought by many of the early farmers.
Warren’s log cabin was located northeast of the Amtrak depot, and thus when the town was established in 1836 as the county seat, it was named in his honor. The next year, the settlement was platted; it centered on a Public Square that was to hold the courthouse, an essential institution for the governance of the county. Attendant businesses, such as lawyers’ offices and a hotel, were quickly established around the perimeter. The design and construction of a permanent courthouse was of immediate concern, and it was finished in 1841. Interestingly, one of the three commissioners to choose the site for the building was Daniel Morgan Boone, son of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone. The two-story brick structure has a square floor plan and was built on a foundation of local brown sandstone. Rather simple in outward appearance, the highlight of 3 of the 4 facades is an arched entryway with 8-over-4 paneled double doors capped by a delicate fanlight. It remains one of the few early Federal-style courthouses still standing in the state.
Apart from the business of government, Warrensburg was primarily an agricultural center, corn later displacing wheat as the leading crop. Farmers came to town to purchase supplies and sell their goods, forming a prosperous mercantile community. After one generation of growth, a new force—the railroad—entered the scene and dramatically changed the layout and life of the community.
The Pacific Railroad obtained an 1849 charter for a rail line to run between St. Louis and a site in the western part of the state, with the aspiration of building to the Pacific Ocean. Ground was broken in St. Louis in 1851. Using rails, locomotives, and rolling stock shipped from England, the first five mile section of the road opened in 1852. Work was intermittent during the Civil War, but by July 1864 the rails had reached Warrensburg.
That same year, construction began on the line eastward from Kansas City, opening to Independence in August. Only a few months later, Confederate Major General Sterling Price led a raid through western Missouri. He and his troops destroyed Pacific Railroad property, including buildings, locomotives, and rolling stock. The destruction was quickly assessed and repaired, and on September 19, 1865, the eastern and western sections of the railroad were joined; the first full run took 14 hours between Kansas City and St. Louis. In 1872, a reorganization of the railroad resulted in a name change to the better known Missouri Pacific Railway, and more than a century later it was subsumed into the Union Pacific Railroad.
Anticipating the path of the railroad, Warrensburg resident Col. Benjamin Grover laid out a plat in 1857 to the east of Holden Street. Grover had wisely made an agreement with the Pacific Railroad in which he donated 40 acres to be dedicated for a depot and other necessary structures such as a water tower and freight building. By mistake or otherwise, the depot was actually built in 1865 on land owned by N.B. Holden, west of Grover’s property. Only one image of the first station remains; it was a simple, one-storey structure with a gabled roof and was clad in vertical wood siding. On the south elevation, a raised loading dock facilitated the movement of crates and parcels between the box cars and the freight room. It stood until February 1889 when it went up in flames and was subsequently replaced by the present station.
As in many communities, the railroad was Warrensburg’s link to the wider world. The placement of the depot east of the original downtown caused the principal merchants to relocate their enterprises around the station, effectively shifting the whole town a few blocks. The right-of-way served as the southern boundary of the settlement. As a stop on the Pacific Railroad, Warrensburg’s role as a business center was reinforced as it became an important shipping point for surrounding farmers. Census numbers reveal an interesting story: in 1860, the town had about 900 residents, but a decade later could boast of almost 3,000.
In the 1870s, the quarries north of town began to be extensively mined; the white and grey sandstone, which in places was almost 90 feet deep, was shipped by railroad to regional markets such as Kansas City and St. Louis. Livestock raising became profitable since the animals could be shipped by rail to the slaughterhouses of St. Louis. New, hardier varieties of wheat that flourished in the Prairie soils, coupled with improvements to the milling process, encouraged the development of grain mills in many towns throughout the Midwest.
The Magnolia Mill, owned by Isaac Markward and William Hartman, opened in 1879 on the north side of the tracks. By consistently upgrading the machinery, the duo crafted increasingly refined flours that were sought-after by merchants as far away as St. Louis. The duo reinvested their profits in Warrensburg and built the Magnolia Opera House, a community theater and auditorium, across the street from the mill. They also funded an insurance company and a bank and helped incorporate the town’s first electric company.
Warrensburg also became known as a pleasure spot based on the reputation of Pertle Springs. When European-Americans arrived in the area, the mineral water that flowed from the ground had been recognized by local American Indian tribes for its healing properties. Late in the 19th century, the land south of town was named after William Purtle who had created the first of 11 lakes by damming one of the springs on his property; he shipped the fresh water to cities across the country.
The spelling was changed by a later owner who thought “Pertle” seemed prettier, and he constructed a large lakeside hotel in 1884. Over the next two decades, the park gained a 3,000 seat open-air auditorium, bowling alleys, and a small zoo with peacocks, monkeys, and a bear. In addition to the hotel, patrons could rent a cottage or a tent, and in 1889, a steam engine and three cars were purchased to ferry visitors between the depot and the resort. Popular with conventions, church groups, and families, the amusement park remained busy well into the 1920s until new technologies such as radio allowed people to create their own fun at home.
The county publicly asserted its newfound prosperity when it erected a new county courthouse in Warrensburg in the 1890s. Officials decided to embrace the new spatial organization of the town and thus shifted the facility towards the downtown commercial district. Much like the depot, completed in 1889, the two-and-a-half storey courthouse reflects Richardsonian Romanesque design influences such as rock-faced sandstone facades punctuated by arched windows and entryways. The four corner pavilions are topped with undulating roofs culminating in finials while the entire composition is crowned by a clock tower that holds aloft a statue of a goddess. Decorative metal and stonework embellishes the building with the appropriate civic gravitas.
At the southeast corner of the square stands a statue of Old Drum by sculptor Reno Gastaldi. Erected in 1958, the canine is a favorite with children as well as dog lovers who recall the history behind the artwork. Charles Burden’s dog, Old Drum, was shot and killed by his neighbor, who also happened to be his brother-in-law. The shooter believed that the dog was harming his sheep. Upset and saddened, Burden sued his relative in 1869 and the case made its way up the judicial ladder. Burden’s lawyer, future U.S. Senator George Graham Vest, gave a moving speech during the trial: “The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world—the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous—is his dog.” Burden won his case and the phrase “man’s best friend” entered the popular lexicon.
Many visitors to Warrensburg stop by the old courthouse; listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is now home to the Johnson County Historical Society and is under a continuing program of restoration and interpretation. The first floor has been recreated to give an idea of the original courtroom where the case of “Old Drum” was presented in 1870. On Sundays, an early twentieth century one-room school house on the property comes alive with music from a local group that calls itself the “Schoolhouse Pickers.”
Today, Warrensburg is known as the home of the University of Central Missouri, founded in 1871 as a teachers’ college, becoming known as Warrensburg Teachers College. The name was changed to Central Missouri State Teachers College in 1919, Central Missouri State College in 1946. In 1965, the institution established a graduate school and the Central Missouri State University name was adopted in 1971. The University’s name was changed to the University of Central Missouri on September 20, 2006. The turreted Dockery Building was erected in 1905, and is one of only two buildings on campus that survived a 1915 fire. Local residents love to cheer on the school’s baseball team, the Mules. There are 105 majors, seven of which are accredited programs in the school of technology, and more than 11,000 students.
Warrensburg’s newest attraction is Blind Boone Park on the west end of town along the train tracks. Born in 1864 to a former slave, John William Boone lost his sight in infancy. As a child, people marveled at his ability to hear a melody once and then be able to repeat it almost perfectly. Recognizing his talent for music, the townspeople raised funds to send him to a school for the blind in St. Louis where he could focus on music. For much of his adult life, Boone was part of a traveling musical group called the Blind Boone Concert Company. Primarily a piano player, he became noted for his innovative mix of classical, ragtime, and gospel styles and played with artists such as Scott Joplin.
For more than five years, a volunteer force in the thousands has helped shape Blind Boone Park as a memorial to the musician. The principal feature is a “Sensory Walkway” specially designed for the enjoyment of blind visitors. It includes objects that are meant to be touched, heard, or smelled, such as a statue of Blind Boone passionately playing an undulating keyboard, a “Wind Harp” sculpture, and a “Scent Garden.” Many of the explanatory plaques also have audio and Braille versions.
The Missouri River Runner is financed primarily through funds made available by the Missouri Department of Transportation. Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by four daily trains.
- 4 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 4 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Wheelchair Lift