Sep/Oct 2012 Issue
This Enhanced Editorial was paid for by a promotional fee from an advertiser.
Sold on Sedalia

Get away to the countryside and relax amidst Show Me State hospitality.

Katy DepotIt was the railroad that gave Sedalia, Mo., massive momentum when the town was reached by track in 1861. The town had been founded the year before, but remained more of a thought than a community.

Sedalia’s status as a railhead changed all that, as it brought industry, trade, workers, money and more to the sleepy burg. Its status also brought strategic importance during the Civil War and bequeathed the lore that accompanied the era of cattle drives.

Over time, of course, the nature of the railroad industry changed, as did that of the cattle industry. Sedalia was affected, but now benefits from having a colorful history on which to draw. It’s that history that lures folks to town, as they experience what another time created and left for future generations to enjoy.

The Trains Shall Meet
One of the railroads that lifted Sedalia to its heights was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas line, or Katy, for its stock abbreviation. Like most communities, Sedalia wanted to promote itself with a handsome depot for train passengers to ogle. The dream was realized in 1896, when the Katy Depot opened. The Romanesque Revival Style structure, built from limestone quarried nearby, was the place to be for decades until ushering out its last guests in the late 1950s.

Today, the depot is home to the Sedalia Welcome Center, and it has been restored to its former glory. It hosts exhibits and artwork that catalog the history of the town and its railroading heritage. Indoors, there are audio-visual displays and motion-activated props that help describe the rich past of the community. Outside, there are sculptures recalling the influence of the Katy, as well as that of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Other art harkens to the city’s musical past as the home of Scott Joplin.

The Katy also is a stop along the Katy Trail State Park, which is the country’s longest rails-to-trails project, stretching 225 miles across north-central Missouri. Bicyclists and walkers alike can traverse the course, pausing to refresh themselves at the welcome center and reflecting on what the scene must have been like during its railroading heyday. (The depot is one of two trailheads in Sedalia along the Katy Trail.)

A Song in its Heart
JoplinIf the railroad gave Sedalia its lifeline, then ragtime gave the town its soul. That is thanks to Scott Joplin, who moved to Sedalia as a young man and honed his musical craft here. His contributions to ragtime, a genre of music noted for its syncopated rhythms and first popular in African-American communities, earned him accolades following his penning of the Maple Leaf Rag.

The song was written while Joplin lived in Sedalia, and shares the name with one of the black-only clubs where Joplin regularly performed. Maple Leaf Rag was a watershed song, influencing others’ creations and giving Joplin the title of King of Ragtime.

After the popularity of ragtime flagged in the early 20th century, it was buoyed by occasional rediscovery, with Joplin at the forefront. An example is the Academy Award-winning film The Sting, which featured modern interpretations of Joplin tunes. One, The Entertainer, was a top-selling song and reignited interest in Joplin.

Sedalia had never forgotten its adopted son. Accordingly, there had been efforts to recognize the composer and the city’s contributions to his career. A music festival seemed a natural fit, but organizers had trouble getting it started. In the 1980s, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival gained its footing – and in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service releasing a commemorative stamp of Joplin – began its annual run every June in Sedalia.

The festival features visitors and performers from around the world. And its four-day run gives all the chance to feel Sedalia’s roll as the Cradle of Ragtime.

Putting on its Best
Getting a sense of what makes Sedalia unique is easy in places such as its Municipal Building. When it was completed in 1973, a citizen commission was charged to choose art for the building. The commission chose Eric Bransby, then an art professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, to render what has been termed the Sedalia Murals.

Bransby, with commission input, researched Sedalia's history in order to tell the city’s story through interpreted painting. What resulted were murals that contain important figures present on Sedalia’s timeline, from the Osage Indians to Joplin.

More art can be enjoyed in Sedalia at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 2002 on the campus of State Fair Community College. The Daum offers a temporary exhibition series that changes three times each year. It houses nine exhibition galleries on three levels, with a combined area of 9,300 square feet. The museum's permanent collection of approximately 1,000 objects includes paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, ceramics and sculpture created since the mid-20th century. It features significant works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams.

buildingArtist impression of an architectural kind takes center stage at Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site.

Lawyer John Homer Bothwell was one of Sedalia's greatest benefactors, as well as a man with eclectic tastes. Over the course of 30 years, he built this 31-room, 12,000-square-foot estate as a recreational lodge that he enjoyed with his friends.

It sits atop three natural caves and overlooks a bluff, giving it one of the best views around. Bothwell willed his estate to the club he founded to use the property. The club continued to use the estate until 1969, when it was offered to the state of Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources developed the Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site, allowing the land to continue to be enjoyed as a recreational retreat, just as Bothwell intended.

The state park offers three miles of hiking and biking trails, a picnic area and playground, and tours of the historic structures on site.

It’s not just parks that bring statewide attention Sedalia. Every August does it, too, when the Missouri State Fair sets up for its 11-day run.  The fair got its start in 1901 and now covers almost 400 acres on land originally donated by the same family who donated the land on which sets the State Capitol.

The family-centric event, like all state fairs, is a celebration of Americana. The entertainment, competitions, rides and other activities all help remind people of the sinews that bind the nation to its rich past.

What better place to reconnect with that past than in a town with a history that’s as rich as they come.

For more information about a Sedalia getaway, visit www.VisitSedaliaMo.com. For more trip-planning assistance, visit AAA.com/travel.


^ to top | previous page