Military history is what I know and love, but my second favorite thing is travel. I love telling you about neat places and interesting people I met.
French Lick, IN- June 6, 2015
I visited a beautiful place in Southern Indiana.
I love Indiana. Folks in the Hoosier State are highly law-abiding citizens who at the same time are a happy-go-lucky, easy going folks. They wave to you as you walk down a country road or get over from the passing lane to let you drive by.
Hoosiers remind me of Oregonians. They have a value system developed around a strong work ethic, modest integrity and helping others. Maybe it’s due to large agriculture communities and not so long ago both places were the edge of frontier life.
There is a practicality, piety and a reverence for military service. People in both places feel a strong moral obligation to help their neighbors and want to be involved in their community.
French Lick and West Baden in the heart of southern Indiana are the best embodiment of this way of life. With its mineral water baths that were rumored to cure darn-near anything, people flocked from all over the country to vacation here.
Rich clients that included Al Capone and several Presidents had a casino, live performances and horseback riding to keep them busy. There was a bank and stock brokerage on-site so business men could continue to work while on vacation.
All of northern and central Indiana is flat as a board, perfect for growing corn, soybeans and the raising of pigs and cows. About 30 miles south of Indianapolis the land begins to get hills as you push south into Kentucky. The hills aren’t big, but they are constant.
The scenery is majestic and the people are colorful. In the center of all this character in southern Indiana beauty of big trees and rolling, green hills is French Lick.
West Baden Hotel
The jewel in the crown of French Lick and is the West Baden Springs Hotel. The hotel went from being called the “8th Wonder of the World” to total disrepair.
A fire destroyed the original hotel in 1901, it was the Walt Disney World of its time. It was rebuilt in less than a year, but the stock market crash of 1929 cleared the hotel out almost overnight.
The hotel was sold to the Jesuits for $1 in the 1930’s and was a seminary until the 1960’s. For a stint it was a private college until 1989 it was closed for safety reasons.
Starting in the late 1990’s there was a $600 million renovation. Now the place feels like it did in the roaring 20’s. With the added amenities you get a world class resort.
It has a 100 feet tall and 600 feet diameter awe-inspiring atrium. It is jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, people stopping to stare beautiful. It is unparalleled in its majesty.
Palm trees grow here and birds have free range and on a sunny day, you will think you are in the middle of a sunny Italian countryside. It is a beautiful in photos, but so much better as an experience in-person. Balcony rooms make you feel like you can touch the sky.
French Lick Springs Resort
A mile to the west of the West Baden Hotel is the French Lick Springs Resort Spa. Time seems to slow as you enter the Crystal Lobby, it is like taking a step back in time.
There is a veranda with a golden banister and the crystal chandeliers cast the perfect light on the softly colored, Italian marble. It made me think of the Grand Ballroom in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”
The last scene is a Norman Rockwell dream of summer in Indiana: the girlfriend and I are sitting on the front porch of the hotel in white, creaking rocking chairs. We can hear the tittering of lazy summer sprinklers that accents the smell of fresh cut grass, we are sipping sweet tea chilled by ice making the glass sweat.
We hear the laughter of children playing in front of us, and behind us is a small old-time jazz band belting out a familiar but forgotten tune. We watch a horse-drawn carriage go by with the driver giving a tour of the place.
The last soft streaks of the setting sun disappear over the horizon. It has been a great day.