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Local History

Arthur Paul Moser

"Several times a week, Paul Moser rides the bus to the Springfield-Greene County Library to work on a mission he began 24 years ago. There, on the third floor amid the reference books, genealogical surveys, historical records and maps, he pursues the communities which time has long forgotten.

“'He comes in three or four times a week,' Robert Casteel, the library’s Sheppard Room’s reference associate, said. 'He’s done an exhaustive survey of Missouri towns and counties. He’s got quite a few books of historical facts about the towns in the state. He’s uncovered lots of little towns that don’t exist any longer.'

"Using the stealth and patience of a detective, Moser ferrets out Missouri settlements which have since disappeared. Relying heavily on documented materials, he also talks with former residents and others. Then not yet done with his day’s work, Moser returns to his small two-room apartment at 433 S. Main where he works afternoons and frequently into the evenings.

“'I tell you it’s fascinating,' the 79-year-old Moser said. 'I’d like to know how King of Prussia (Pa.) got its name. I expect I’ll know some day.'

"Although Moser’s education formally ended in the 11th grade, his studies belatedly have attracted the attention of Missouri’s literary specialists. He presented a paper on the state’s place names before the Missouri Philological Association in Joplin. Because of that meeting, he has been asked to submit a paper to the Library of Congress.

"A kindly, enthusiastic man who enjoys his research, Moser’s background wouldn’t give any clues to his pastime. Employed briefly by Frisco Railway at the age of 18, he began work in 1920. Following an 11-year stint with Herr’s, Moser served in World War II before returning to Herr’s. He joined Ozark Paper and Janitor Supply Co. as a warehouseman, but a slight heart attack then limited his activities. After working for a print shop, Moser’s career ended when he retired in 1973. The following year, the lifelong bachelor (“I’m still looking.”) completed his general equivalency degree.

"But his Missouri counties research began five years earlier. The late Lee Hoover, then the Greene County Historical Society’s president, suggested Moser compile a list of all the towns that flourished in Greene County at one time. Relying on his memory, Moser took a list to the main library’s reference department to make a comparison, where he discovered his list was more comprehensive. Eventually, he compiled a list which included 87 settlements of some kind or another. He also has completed a listing of all Greene County school districts.

"Returning to the library’s research department several weeks later, he decided to compile a list for Christian County. Greene County’s neighbor was, like parts of all of 18 other Ozarks counties, included with Greene County’s expanded borders at one time. Completing Christian County’s research, Moser expanded his county community histories, leapfrogging from one Missouri county to another. After studying Douglas County, about a dozen counties after he began, Moser decided to study all 114 Missouri counties.

“Now I don’t know where to stop because one county leads into another,” conceded Moser, sitting in his kitchen surrounded by his life’s work. His work has been complicated for reasons beyond his control. Although nearby counties frequently have histories, one’s never been published for Stone County. And courthouses throughout the Ozarks were destroyed during the Civil War, resulting in the loss of potentially valuable records. In the 24 years since he first began, he has researched 90 counties and is studying Putnam County now. St. Louis County will be the last one he’ll research in Missouri. Although tongue-in-cheek suggestions involve northern Arkansas or Illinois once Missouri’s completed, Moser won’t make any promises.

“'Well, I’ll cross the bridge when I get to it,' he said.

"There is no timetable for completing his project, but he anticipates his research will end in 1½ years. In the process, he’s picked up interesting tidbits about the Show Me State’s history. That Missouri, for instance, had two Springfield, the other is present day Pittsburgh in Clinton County, at one time. And that an earthquake shifted New Madrid’s original location, moving it one-half mile across the Mississippi River into Kentucky. Each county history of communities generally takes 1½ months, resulting in reports averaging 20 pages each. They include the towns’ founders, prominent businessmen, location and reference source. Copies of the reports, which have ranged from 7- 42 pages each, are then given to the Springfield-Greene County Library. Missouri State Historical society, Lebanon’s library, a University of Missouri-Rollo professor and the School of the Ozarks.

"It’s difficult for Moser to explain to others why he has committed years of his life and his limited savings to a task which doesn’t financially benefit him. They just don’t understand when he tells them, he said.

“'A lot of people ask, “Why do you do that?” Moser said. “’Why don’t you do so and so?’ But I’m happy and I guess that’s all that matters.'"

Leader and Press, March 25, 1981.

The photograph of Paul Moser, above, is from the News-Leader's photograph collection. Other photographs can be viewed in From the Darkroom.

Arthur Paul Moser died in 1987 and is buried in the Springfield National Cemetery. In addition to the subjects mentioned in the article Mr. Moser also wrote papers on the naming of Springfield Streets, the hotels of Springfield and the histories of Christian churches in Southwest Missouri. Selections from Mr. Moser’s Directory of Towns, Villages and Hamlets Past and Present of Missouri are available online.

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