The cabin he completed in November was built almost entirely from trees grown and milled on the Stoddard County land his family homesteaded nearly 80 years ago. It sits in the middle of soybean, wheat and corn fields cared for today by his son, the third generation of Morgans to farm that ground.
"It just makes sense to use what you've got," the 69-year-old Morgan said simply as he gave a tour of the cabin and sawmill, both located only a few hundred feet from where the home he was born and raised in once stood. "It's the way things were done years and years ago. You use what you have, instead of having things shipped from all over."
Morgan's strong connection with the land, and the community which surrounds it, can be felt in every stretch of timber used to construct the cabin.
He knows, for instance, the floors of honey locust will look like granite when well-worn by footsteps, just as they did in the home of a large family who lived on a neighboring farm when he was a boy. A gleaming single piece of oak, 28 by 96 inches, was cut, milled and painstakingly worked smooth from raw wood to form a table. Wide exposed beams of poplar stretch across the ceilings of the two story, 1,700 square-foot structure.
Morgan began milling the lumber for his cabin in 1999, while convalescing from heart surgery that required six bypasses. Heart trouble, which took his father at age 52 and brother at age 54, runs in the family.
A farmer who still rises with the sun, Morgan wasn't ready at 56 to be confined to a recliner. With the help of his son, he built a sawmill instead.
"This has always just been a family farm. ... There are an awful lot of memories here," said Morgan, as he explained the design of the mill where he cut single boards as much as 30 feet long for the cabin.
From contacts made through his son-in-law, and a little Southeast Missouri ingenuity, the project was made more economical by using items already on hand on the farm.
Morgan welded the housing and frame, fitting inside it an 8 horsepower motor to operate a rotating blade. Two donut tires rotate the blade. The centrifugal clutch was borrowed from a go kart. A garage door mechanism raises and lowers the unit.
Cypress logs, harvested a few years before Morgan's surgery, were the first to be cut into lumber at the mill.
Morgan found for the construction a like-mind, and a friend, in C. Doc Mitchell of Wayne County, Mo. Mitchell, who took the project on after the framing was complete, understood it required more than a cookie-cutter blueprint.
"You don't often get a chance to do something like this," explained Mitchell, after describing how floor boards were locked together by cutting grooves in the facing sides and inserting a 1-inch wide strip of wood, called a spline.
Nails were covered with more than 1,100 wooden pegs, some handmade from walnut. A staircase was formed with 4-inch thick planks of poplar and inlaid into a center support. The 36-inch front door contains two poplar boards.
Handles for the front door were carved by hand.
"People come here and say, 'I'd like to do this,' but nobody realizes the work," Mitchell said. "Each beam Paul pushed through on the saw four times, then planed and sanded it."
Elements of the design were inspired by a visit to a family home in Pennsylvania, according to Morgan. The Edward Morgan Log House in Towamencin Township, Pa., was built in 1695. Among Edward Morgan's descendants was frontiersman Daniel Boone.
"Paul knew he wanted to do something back to land. He's very attached to the land and the lore of this area," Mitchell said, adding Morgan's knowledge of the land is often accompanied by stories about his friends and neighbors.
Morgan moved into his new home in November, about one year after pouring the concrete for the footings. A few finishing touches are still needed at the three bedroom, two-bath cabin, where most of the rooms are still empty. A handmade quilt covers a bed in one of the two upstairs rooms, and a recliner and leather couch sit in the living room.
The structure was designed to allow Morgan, who still gets up 4:30 a.m., to watch the sun rise in the east and set in the west from his living room, though he prefers a bench on the front porch with his dog Muffin close by.
"It's always been a big deal out here, all our lives out here, the sunrise and sunset," Morgan said recently while standing in front of his home on a warm, breezy December afternoon -- the type of weather, he added, which would normally have found him working in his sawmill.