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Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

Trail blazer in history tells story of Bloomfield's past

Sunday, June 1, 2003

(Photo)
Robert H. Forister
BLOOMFIELD - There's more to Bloomfield that the Stars and Stripes Museum-Library. Much more, according to Robert H. Forister.

His 400-book on the small Stoddard County town, "Bloomfield, Missouri: Highland in the Swamps," began appearing on shelves Monday.

"Southeast Missouri, for one reason or another, has been neglected by historians," Forister said. "There's a lot of history here, and you keep scratching and you keep finding more."

With Bloomfield being on Crowley's Ridge, it was an important commercial center with trade making its way north and south along the ridge.

"Bloomfield goes back before the state of Missouri was formed," Forister said, noting that when Bloomfield was established in 1835, there was no Sikeston, no Charleston. "Bloomfield in the early years was the most prominent town south of Cape Girardeau and Fredericktown."

Although the "intense research" was conducted in 2001-2002, "actually I've been working on it since I moved here in 1965," Forister said.

Forister used both primary and secondary sources for the book, digging through old area newspapers, courthouse and school records as well as doing personal interviews with older residents - "Mostly to get a flavor of the times," he explained.

Even so, with so much material to cover, it reads more like "encyclopedic source text" than a story.

The book begins in "Chapter 1: The Louisiana Territory" with an letter dated June 16, 1804, by Amos Stoddard, who took possession of the Louisiana Purchase for the United States earlier that day.

Winding its way through history, it ends in "Chapter 22: The New Millennium" with a final entry dated May 31, 2002, on an expansion of the Stars and Stripes Museum.

Forister recalls always having an interest in history with his specific interest in local history going back to hunting trips with his father. "My father was always telling me stories," he recalled.

There are also two main appeals to local history for him, he added: "One is the fact is it's like buried treasure. A lot of local history has been buried for many years," he explained. "The other attraction of it for me is you become increasingly aware the past used to be the present and used to be the future."

Writing about history is "breathing life in something that used to be dead for many years," Forister said. "There are few places left that people haven't been, but in local history there are all sorts of opportunities to be a trail blazer."

This is the third history Forister has written. "History of Stoddard County" was written 1971 to raise money for the historical society and had been out of print. "We reprinted it a couple of years ago and are still selling those books," said Forister.

"Complete History of Butler County," was written in 1999 for the county's 150th anniversary. "It's similar to this book," said Forister. "Sort of a companion book to this last book."

In addition to pursuing his interest in history, Forister feels like he's doing "a public service" with the histories.

Forister noted, for example, that there are three surviving copies of the first edition of the Stars and Stripes from 1861. "Something as fragile as a newspaper survived over a hundred years," Forister said. "I think that that's one of the attractions for anybody that writes at all - knowing what you write survives."

Forister's books are available locally for $40 at the Stars and Stripes Museum-Library, the Recorder's Office at the County Courthouse and Christian's Store in Bloomfield; Overturf Drugstore and Baliff's Office Supply in Dexter; and Hastings Bookstore in Popular Bluff. Forister intends to approach Barnes and Nobles in Cape Girardeau to make it available there, too.

His books are also available online at http://countyhistoriesofmissouri.hyper for $39 +$6 shipping and handling. "We sell quite a few books over the Internet," Forister said.

Born Jan. 15, 1935, in St. Louis, Forister attended one-room elementary schools in Wayne and Butler counties and three years at Cape Girardeau High School before graduating from Scott City High School in 1951.

After graduating from Southeast Missouri State, he began his teaching career in 1954 at Blodgett. He followed 11 years of classroom teaching with 11 more years as Bloomfield's elementary school principal after receiving his master's degree from the University of Missouri.

He married his wife, Carol Joan Towery, also a retired teacher, in 1962. They have two children, Kimberly DeLapp of Arnold and Andrew Forister of Morehouse.

His feature column "Smoke Rings" was published in over a hundred weekly newspapers in about 10 Midwestern states from 1971 through the early 1980s. "It varies from humor to reminiscence to political, social commentary," Forister said.