A $382 million makeover of the French Lick area’s two famed Beaux-Arts hotels has just been completed. The hotels, the French Lick Springs Resort and the West Baden Springs Resort, both of which originally opened a few months apart in 1901 and 1902, are national historic landmarks.
Constructed in 1902, the West Baden Springs Hotel is renowned for its spectacular architecture. When the West Baden Springs Hotel opened in 1902, it was dubbed the 8th wonder of the world with its six-story atrium culminating in the world’s largest free-span dome . The dome held that distinction until the Astrodome opened in 1965.
In its heyday, the area was also known as a lawless hangout for a generation of politicians, entertainers, sports idols and gangsters. Visitors usually arrived by train in the Roaring Twenties — a dozen or more trainloads a day — when French Lick was one of America’s most famous, and infamous, party towns. Back then French Lick and the surrounding Springs Valley had 30 hotels and 15 clubs. The town, French Lick, got its name from the French traders who founded it and the salty mineral deposits that attracted wildlife.
West Baden Springs Hotel
The restored lobby of the French Lick Springs Resort
An aerial view of the West Baden Springs Resort
French Lick And West Baden Springs are located in Orange County in southwestern Indiana. It is about a two-hour drive from Indianapolis, which means about four hours from Fort Wayne. The region also has a distinct topography called Karst topography. Some of the mineral springs in the area are the product of this topography.
Karst landscapes usually occur where carbonate rocks, primarily limestone and dolostone, underlie the surface. Freely circulating slightly acidic rainwater and the water in the soil slowly dissolve the cracks in the limestone and create sinkholes, caves, and other features that characterize karst landscapes.
Indiana has two well-developed areas of karst landscape. The first, the Mitchell Plateau, is a broad limestone karst plateau dissected by a few major stream systems and is located in southern Indiana. This plateau developed on Mississippian limestones and extends from the eastern part of Owen County southward to the Ohio River in Harrison County.
The second karst area is located in southeastern Indiana and is known as the Muscatatuck Plateau. This plateau developed on limestones of Silurian and Devonian age.
I hope to travel to West Baden Springs to see the newly-opened hotel and the Karst region topography during my break coming up in June. And to all those individuals who are always complaining about Indiana and say it is boring – I say just look around and you might be surprised. With gas prices what they are today, a little excursion somewhere in this beautiful state may be in order.