John Homer Bothwell would have approved of the Radiant Trail, which rambles for three miles through the fields and forests of Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site.
“He would hike great distances on a whim, get out in the woods and start walking and who knows where he would end up,” said Charles Wise, who guides visitors through Bothwell’s castle-like home.
“People would think he was a hitchhiker and try to pick him up – they felt sorry he was walking, he felt sorry because they had to drive. The trail goes through such a natural part of the property, places he himself would have been out walking with his friends.”
Motorists on Interstate 65 north of Sedalia can’t miss the turreted stone lodge, which sits 120 feet high on a bluff looking down on the countryside. The lodge is open to tours on winter weekends and can be combined with a stay in the renovated Hotel Bothwell, a historic landmark in downtown Sedalia, for a short trip into the distant past.
Bothwell’s story is a fascinating blend of tragedy and a life well lived, and it is told through the personal belongings lovingly preserved throughout the 31-room, multi-level mansion.
Born in 1848 in Maysville, Ill., Bothwell came to Sedalia, a bustling rail hub, as a young lawyer in 1871. He married Hattie Jaynes, the sister of his law partner, but the marriage was just two years old when misfortune struck.
Hattie gave birth to a stillborn child, and was believed to have died of complications from the pregnancy. Bothwell never remarried, never had children.
Entering politics, Bothwell served four terms as a state legislator and ran unsuccessfully for governor. He failed in his bid to have the state capitol moved to Sedalia, but did secure the permanent home for the Missouri State Fair, which began its lengthy run in the city in 1901.
Although schooled in law, he made his fortune with the West St. Louis Water & Light Co., which supplied water to St. Louis County and Kirksville on the other side of the state. He served as president of the company until 1926.
Enthralled with nature, Bothwell discovered a picturesque wooded bluff outside Sedalia and decided it would be perfect for a weekend retreat. Using native stone, he began construction of the house in 1897, and built it in four phases, the last completed in 1928.