Monday, September 23, 2013

Hidden in the Midwest-Part 2

     This post is part 2 of our visit to French Lick/West Baden, Indiana. You can read about the French Lick Hotel here, in part 1. Today I will show you around the other hotel, West Baden Springs Hotel. Built as the Mile Lick Hotel in 1855, it was also (like the French Lick Resort) built because people traveled to the area for the mineral springs. The name was changed later and reflected Baden, a famous mineral spa in Europe. Before a fire in 1901 that destroyed West Baden Springs, it housed a casino, an opera house, a 2 level pony and bicycle track and a baseball field. Owned by Lee W. Sinclair (you still see the name Sinclair many places in the area), the hotel was rebuilt after the fire to be his dream hotel.
     When you enter the hotel, this is what you see. I couldn't begin to get a picture that truly shows how large this atrium is. Sinclair wanted it to be the largest dome in the world and to look like a grand European spa. It reopened in 1902 with a 200 foot atrium. After Sinclair died, his daughter and her husband took over the hotel until they drained their finances and sold the hotel in 1923 to Ed Ballard for a million dollars. The hotel lost all business after the stock market crash of 1929 and Ballard eventually sold it for 1 dollar to the Jesuits in 1934. They removed many of the elegant touches and buildings. The seminary known as West Baden College operated until 1964 and sold in 1966 after the seminary closed. It was then purchased by a couple who donated it to Northwood Institute, a private college, which operated in West Baden until 1983. It was after that time, the hotel sold once again and sat empty, falling into ruin.

The fireplace could burn 14 foot logs

     There were attempts to keep up the empty building over the years, but it wasn't until May of 1994, when the hotel was sold to Minnesota Investment Partners for $500,00 that things started to look up. Grand Casinos, Inc., an investor in the purchase, optioned the hotel from MIP. The Cook Group, Inc., a global medical device manufacturing company, headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana, stepped in to preserve both French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel.  Both hotels and their grounds received a multi-million dollar renovation returning them to the grandeur of the days of Sinclair and uniting them as one resort. In 2006, French Lick Springs Hotel reopened after an extensive renovation and in 2007 the West Baden Springs Hotel opened it's doors once again.
This photo show how the inside looked during the renovation.
The hallway to the spa.

Indoor pool-taken from the spa.

One of the many ornate fixtures in the atrium.

The library.

The details in the flooring.

Stained glass doors, everywhere.

Some of the original china.

The building in the background is empty now.
 It once held a bowling alley,
billiard room and a rumored illegal casino.

The small cemetery where some of the Jesuits who died
while in residence are buried.

This is the original Mineral Spring at West Baden.
Like French Lick, the sulfur smell is very strong.

Packaging of the original Pluto Water from French Lick.

The sunken garden.
The baseball field had an old-fashioned baseball game.
     I think it is obvious why the West Baden Springs Resort is considered a bit more upscale than the French Lick Resort. The prices are a little higher, the atmosphere is very quiet and almost isolated. I was afraid that I would be sorry that we chose French Lick, but I wasn't. This hotel is certainly a "must see" as it is breathtaking and the history is so interesting. It also has truly beautiful grounds. The two hotels are so close to each other and with a shuttle that goes back and forth, you really have the advantage of both hotels, no matter where you decide to stay.
     We loved almost everything about our 3 days in French Lick. We will certainly go back, but we will be a little more prepared. We struggled with the food choices. The towns of French Lick/West Baden are small with very little to offer. The resorts and the winery are wonderful, but other than that...unless you drive to another town, you won't find many places to eat. The hotels have several restaurants, which many people would be perfectly happy with. They both have upscale restaurants, with dinner prices around $150 and up for two people without beverages. The reviews for these are not that great and the menu choices weren't very interesting to us. So, even though we took "dressy" clothes, we decided we simply weren't interested in them enough to spend that kind of money. The other restaurants in the hotels are much less expensive, but served what I called a cross between T.G.I. Fridays and Buffalo Wild Wings. It was bar food in various locations. If you like pizza, burgers, meatloaf and will be perfectly happy. If you like food that is more interesting and made with fresh, local will feel like we did. The winery food was great, but it isn't open for dinner or on Mondays. There is a little place that has sandwiches and bakery items that is rated number one for the area and it was also good, but not open for dinner. I found the restaurants to be the only thing that was a disappointment at these gorgeous resorts.


Glenda/MidSouth said...

What a beautiful place to visit - thanks for sharing your trip. If the restaurant is charging $150 and up, management needs to take a another look at their offerings, include some moderate priced, healthy options. Sounds like since most other places around don't serve dinner and/or closed on Monday, they are taking advantage of the situation.
Hope you have a great week.

Rettabug said...

*GASP* That atrium is positively breathtaking, Sue!! I am so very glad that it has been would have been a shame to lose it.

Very informative post...DH will be interested, as his Uncle was a Jesuit priest & DH studied at John Carroll, a Jesuit college here in OH. My DD also did her undergraduate studies there.

Too bad the Jesuits did take better care of the place! LOL

Interesting observation about the food. I hope you get a 'comment card' in the mail, so you can share your disappointment with the management.

Thanks for doing this very interesting post!

Sherry Thecharmofhome said...

Sue these are great shots of French Lick. I have always wondered what it was like. Thanks for posting!

Blondie's Journal said...

You have me interested in yet another great place to visit in our area. Now, I get the idea that French Lick is in the vicinity of Indianapolis, no? Anyway, I love the resort you stayed at, I found it to be much prettier than the other hotel, although the hotel does have beautiful gardens. I hear you on the food, what a shame. And when we travel, we really put an emphasis on trying regional food and really making it a relaxing part of our trip since we rarely eat out at home. I think we'd like the casino, too. And no, we're not big spenders but it's a little exciting!

Glad you had a great time in a place you wanted to go to. Thanks for all the great pictures, the history and your tips!