Day three of the Scott Joplin Festival took us out of the world of ragtime and to the 1920’s retreat of a rich Missouri lawyer and businessman John Homer Bothwell. He arrived in Sedalia, MO in 1871 where he set up a practice and married Hattie Jaynes, the sister of his partner, but his bliss would not last. Two years after they married, Hattie died due to complications shortly after giving birth to a stillborn daughter. Bothwell would never remarry and go to his grave childless. Instead, he entered politics, serving four terms in the Missouri state legislature and making an unsuccessful run for the governor’s office. It would be his position as president of the West St. Louis Water and Light Company that would make his fortune, though and he stayed with the company until 1926.
Beginning in 1897, Bothwell set to work on a retreat – a place where he could escape the hustle and stress of business and fade into nature which he loved. He was known to wander the roads and trails, sometimes being mistaken as a hitch hiker by motorists. In 1928 Bothwell Lodge was completed and it became his full time home. Like the man whose name our hotel bears, we vacated Sedalia for the countryside
For us, with the benefit of a modern highway and car, it was barely was a fifteen minute jaunt from town to Bothwell’s getaway. We headed out before the town really woke up and were under the boughs of the forest before the first piano ivory had been tickled. This part of the state is rolling and rocky, with bluffs and cliffs here and there. Bothwell Lodge sits at the edge of one of these cliffs, a house that seems to spring from the Missouri limestone. We spent most of the morning walking the grounds, taking in the sights and taking photographs.
The Lodge is a model of the man who built it; an eclectic jumble of parts that go together even though they don’t seem like they should. Bothwell started out with a small, one room cabin, but when he found that guests were always vying for space he expanded, adding a tower, office, and several guest bedrooms and connecting the house itself to a cave system as a form of improvised air conditioning. He had a library with thousands of books covering subjects from religion, business, and politics to woodworking, book collecting, and novels. He travelled the world, supported charity, helped to build a local hospital, donated to local school children, and generally was an upstanding citizen.
At the age of 70, Bothwell died from Bright’s disease, spending his waning days in a hospital bed that had been moved to the lodge’s sleeping porch. He would have heard the birds singing and maybe an errant bee from the hive he kept in the wall of the upstairs office and his last breaths would have been perfumed with the scent of the woods on the late summer breeze.