The Jones Brothers Mule Barn is located at 101 North College, in Warrensburg, Missouri. It is a red brick building that was built in 1912 as mule sales barn, and later served as a hardware store. In 1912 Walter and Perry Jones paid $26,000 to build what came to be known as the Jones Brothers Mule Barn. The barn played an important role in a thriving mule business that had developed in Johnson County and Warrensburg around the turn of the twentieth century. Buyers from all over the Midwest came to the sale barn to purchase mules and they were then able to quickly ship their purchases on the railroad line, which was located just feet away from the mule barn.
Walter and Perry Jones were two brothers from Johnson County who had over ten years of experience in breeding and selling mules prior to opening their mule barn on college street. Keith Jones, nephew of the brothers, recalled that Walter took care of the shows and ran the sale barn while Perry maintained the farms in Johnson County where the mules were breed and lived prior to being sent to the mule barn for sale.
Walter Jones showed mules at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 where he came away with a number of prize ribbons after his teams of mules competed with other draft animals. The Jones Brothers had brought a category of mule called a larger mule to the competition, which impressed many reviewers.
In 1912, when the Jones Brothers Mule Barn opened, Missouri had 333,000 mules in the state. A newspaper article published about a year before the opening noted that the brothers were selling up to 100 mules a month.
The brothers constructed their sale barn with efficiency and functionality in mind. The mules were displayed to potential buyers on the first floor which had multiple stalls. An open loft, which stored hay and feed was built over the stall, and a number of pivoting windows were installed to keep the air circulating as much as possible to facilitate proper and much needed ventilation.
During World War I the demand for Missouri mules increased and the Jones Brothers Mule Barn sought to satisfy that demand. Mules were used to haul machine gun carts and the larger mules were used to support artillery and ammunition units. One article noted that from 1915 to 1916 the Jones Brothers shipped 6,500 mules out of Johnson County and that Walter Jones “has gained fame all over the United States and overseas as a mule dealer, for he has sold mules in nearly every state in the Union and in Spain as well.”
The Brothers expanded their business after the war and constructed new buildings which included a long hay storage shed, a blacksmith shop and a smaller pen that housed sick animals. The expansion in the 1920s also came at a time when the demand for mules was beginning to decline.
The end of World War I contributed to the decline, but so too did the rise in the use of trucks and tractors. Perry Jones’ daughter, Dale, noted that after the war, “we still shipped out about three train car loads a week, but it just wasn’t the same. Instead of the buyers coming to us, we went to the buyers.” Dale concluded: “People just started buying tractors.”
In the 1930s the brothers mortgaged the barn to possibly offset the declining values of their Johnson County farmland. Unfortunately, they were not able to keep up with those payments and defaulted on the mortgage and Edwin W. Cassingham purchased the property at a foreclosure sale in 1932. Cassingham converted the Jones barn into a hardware store that ironically supported the emerging tractor and trucking industries, which had displaced the need for the draft power provided by the mules.
Cassingham, who had worked as a clerk for the Jones Brothers, did not completely alter the building because by the 1930s the building was well known as a local landmark. In fact, the article that discussed the foreclosure sale noted that the “Jones barn is probably one of the most widely known buildings in Central Missouri.”
The Cassingham Hardware Store remained a fixture in the life of Warrensburg and Johnson County residents for more than half a century when it closed in the early 2000s.