The mural on the side of the History Museum depicts events in Moberly history.
Randolph County was carved from its neighbor to the west, Chariton County, in 1829. The area was sparsely populated at the time, but the town of Huntsville had been in existence for at least eight years when the new county was formed. Sometimes known as Little Dixie, the area was settled by pioneers from the southern states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Some were slave owners, others strict abolitionists. During the Civil War no major battles were fought on county soil, but the war took its toll. The North Missouri Railroad Company, with its north-south line, was a target of both sides. The town of Renick was burned twice and many families lost loved ones to the cause.
Following the end of the Civil War, the United States again looked westward for growth and expansion. In Missouri, this took the form of many new proposed railroad projects, where construction of new track created towns or explosive growth in villages along the lines. So on September 27, 1866, real estate firms from St. Louis who were following railroad surveyors, determined that a high point in the prairie, where the North Missouri Railroad headed north to Macon City, was to be the location for a new railroad interchange.
The junction of the North Missouri and the new Chariton and Randolph Railroads provided that location and the town of ‘Moberly’ was born. Named after the Superintendent of the Chariton and Randolph Railroad, Moberly was just a mile or so south of the Village of Allen whose residents were sought as the first citizens of the new town. As Moberly grew it attracted many young, strong-willed immigrants determined to find their fortune. Soon, the town of 1,500 was working hard to become the center of the railroad’s growth westward and in 1872 the shops for what was to become the vast Wabash Railroad system were located here. In order to obtain the facility, Moberly provided over 800 acres of land and with the resources of water and vast amounts of coal, the future of the town was secured. Soon, the population of Moberly soared to over 5,000 and a writer from the industrial north coined the phrase “Moberly, The Magic City.”
Famous Randolph County residents include many who went on to both state-wide and nation-wide recognition. But none were any better known than Five Star General Omar M. Bradley. A display at the county historical society in Moberly and a statue in Rothwell Park reflect his part in World War II. Moberly is also known as the home of a number of writers including Elizabeth Seifert Gasparotti, who wrote many romance novels; Jack Conroy, who wrote books and short stories about “the great depression” including his well-known work, “The Disinherited.”
Omar Bradley statue at Rothwell Park.
Moberly has also produced poets, musicians, artists, educators, and sports figures. Musician Dab Hannah entertained for many years; a local group, the Krazy Kats of the Elvis and Beatles era, continue to play around the state, sports writer Stan Isle regaled the exploits of many local athletes before rising to rank of editor of St. Louis’s Sporting News. Cotton Fitzsimmons led the Moberly Greyhounds to two National Junior College Championships before becoming a successful NBA coach. Dana Altman also had a stint with the Greyhounds before moving on to be a very successful Division 1 basketball coach. Recently, a movie portrayed Melvin B. Tolson, black educator born in Moberly, who went on to challenge young blacks to achieve in the world of debate. The movie, “The Great Debaters,” features actors Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker in the lead roles. Actor Brent Briscoe has been seen in many major motion pictures such as “Sling Blade”, “The Majestic”, “A Simple Plan”, and others.
Your visit to Moberly must include historic Oakland Cemetery where statues reflect a mixed population of immigrants from Kentucky, Virginia, other southern states and from the north and eastern states, truly creating a melting pot of heritage. Statues of Abraham Lincoln, a Confederate soldier, and a Northern soldier co-exist in a portion of the cemetery.
Today, efforts to remember Moberly include the Burkholder-O’Keefe house, on the historic register, the Railway Express Agency building which serves as a railroad historical building, and the renovation of historic 4th Street Theatre, along with a recent survey of all historic buildings in the center of downtown Moberly. Buildings such as the Municipal Auditorium, public library and churches in the downtown district continue to be well maintained and used with architecture that made Moberly well-known. Studies of the design of Moberly architect, Ludwig Abt, continue to be the source of interest by students of architecture around the country.