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Visiting the West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Indiana

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by Judy Bereza, guest blogger

When we stayed at the West Baden Springs Hotel in September, we immediately wondered how such a historic and acclaimed resort hotel with the title of “USA Today Best Historic Resort in America for 2015” is located in a rather remote and secluded part
of Indiana.

And why is the little town where it is located called French Lick? The answer to the odd name is simple: the name derives from early French settlers and the salt and mineral licks that were plentiful in the area.

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The history of the hotel itself is more complicated and engrossing. If you pit two wealthy nineteenth century competitive hotel owners trying to outdo each other, the introduction of direct train access, the beautiful countryside, and the development of the resort by its visionary owner into a early 20th Century version of “Disney World”, it is easy to understand and appreciate how the appeal of the experience surmounted the unheralded location.

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The one hundred plus year old hotel has had several reincarnations. After the stock market crash and the following Great Depression, the hotel became successively a U.S. Army hospital, a Jesuit retreat, a college, and finally, an abandoned structure. In l996 the Historic Landmarks Foundation bought the hotel and began the enormous task of restoration. Due to an infusion of six hundred million dollars by a generous Indiana billionaire, the hotel has once again attained the status that the original owner envisioned.

 

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The resort occupies 3600 acres of property, and the hotel was built in 1903 after several earlier versions were either abandoned or burned. The owner, Colonel Lee Sinclair, built the structure out of concrete, completing it in one year. When the hotel was opened, it was declared the “Eighth Wonder of the World” a fitting title for a structure with an interior circular atrium 200 feet in diameter and 100 feet high, with 728 rooms. It became a mecca for the rich, famous, and infamous. Al Capone was an occasional guest.

Our guide took us on a fascinating tour, and proved to us why the hotel is not only renowned for its history, but why it truly deserves the title, Design Destination. The atrium is simply jaw dropping, but beyond that, it is architecturally exquisite.

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The public spaces are beautifully and faithfully restored. The rooms are worthy of the five star designation. Added to this are the expansive gardens, hiking trails, the antique railroad for transportation around the resort, the exquisite spa, swimming pools and dining rooms restored to their early 20th century glory, four golf courses, and even a casino!

The West Baden Springs Hotel is one of America’s grandest hotels, and gives
its guests the privilege of experiencing the rich architectural past of the structure while
staying at a lavish, state of the art resort.

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IMG_2340-150x150Judy Bereza is a retired interior designer/kitchen expert, constant walker and “Nana” to four adorable grand children. She and her friends have hiked in Wales, Cornwall, Switzerland, Smokey Mountain National Park, Ireland and California.

Occasionally she veers off the trail to explore a different kind of travel adventure that includes her husband

 

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

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