Deep in the heart of southern Indiana sits a hotel so beautiful, so magnificent it’s hard to believe went from being dubbed the “8th Wonder of the World” to total disrepair, in danger of completely falling apart. Thankfully, today, the West Baden Springs Hotel, part of the French Lick Resort Group, is again a premier example of architecture and grandeur.
When a fire destroyed the original West Baden Springs Hotel in 1901, owner Lee Sinclair wanted a to rebuild with the hotel of his dreams… The new hotel was built in just a year and featured a 200 ft. diameter atrium and fireplace that burned massive 14 ft logs. The new West Baden Springs Hotel opened in 1902 to extremely positive reviews, and its mineral water baths were said to cure darn-near anything. The hotel featured a casino, live performances each night, movies, bowling, and billiards. Outdoor activities included golf, the largest oval bicycle track in the country, horseback riding, and more. For their abundance of wealthy clients they featured a bank and stock brokerage on-site.
The hotel was known worldwide as a playground for the wealthy, and then everything changed. The stock market crash of 1929 cleared the hotel almost immediately. No one had money to spend a week at the ultra-luxurious hotel anymore.
The hotel was sold to the Jesuits for $1, who, in true Jesuit-style, took out much of the fancy furniture, and used it as their seminary, West Baden College. By the 1960s, the seminary closed and the hotel was eventually donated to a private college, the Northwood Institute, who ran the place into the 1980s. The college took decent care of the place, but when they sold it to a real estate firm that would quickly go bankrupt, all hell broke loose.
From West Baden Springs Hotel:
In 1974 West Baden was listed as a National Historic Landmark but the elements took their toll on the neglected hotel and it was closed to the public in 1989 for safety reasons. In January 1991 a buildup of ice and water on the roof and in drainpipes caused the collapse of a portion of the exterior wall. Indiana Landmarks, the country’s largest state-wide historic preservation organization, led the charge to stabilize the hotel to preserve redevelopment potential, and attract a new owner capable of restoring the property for a new use. In 1992 Indiana Landmarks spent $140,000 to stabilize the hotel, matching a $70,000 contribution from an anonymous donor.
In the mid-nineties the hotel was sold to investors who saved both the West Baden Springs Hotel and the nearby French Lick Resort. By 2007 both hotels had been renovated to their original grandeur and reopened.
A stay today at the West Baden Springs Hotel feels much like it did in the roaring 20s, but with all the modern amenities you want in a world-class resort. One thing that hasn’t changed is the atrium’s ability to absolutely wow anyone who sets foot inside. Consistently named the best hotel in Indiana and garnering awards from every travel publication known to man, the West Baden Springs Hotel may be the most beautiful building in the midwest.