Walking into the atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden Springs, Indiana, feels like entering a scene from Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, The Age of Innocence. The novel’s characters from upper-class New York City society in the 1870s would have felt at home amidst the hotel’s extensive gold leaf décor, huge palm fronds, and life-size statues of Greek gods surrounding green velvet fainting couches, elaborate tile floors, and marble counters.
The 200-foot-wide atrium in the West Baden Springs Hotel may not have been the setting for a Pulitzer-prize winning novel, but the resort, first built in 1855 and named after the famous mineral springs in Wiesbaden, Germany, has its own story to tell.
When architects constructed the atrium’s free-spanning dome above the 6-story atrium in 1901, it was declared the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Celebrities and political figures like the Roosevelts and the Gettys flocked to the area by claims of miracle waters from local sulfur springs. The water, which supposedly cured dozens of diseases, including alcoholism and diabetes, was discovered later to contain lithium, which today is used in batteries.
The stock market crash of 1929 brought an end to the hotel’s visitors. In 1934 the West Baden Springs Hotel was sold for one dollar to Jesuit priests. The elegant hotel operated as a seminary for 30 years, then fell into disrepair, along with its equally glamorous sister accommodation, French Lick Springs Hotel built in 1901 and located just a mile away.
Today, the resorts of West Baden with 246 rooms and French Lick with 443 rooms reflect their original grandeur. More than 5,000 square feet of gold leafing on cornices and fixtures adorn nearly a dozen dining rooms, conference areas, and state-of-the-art spas.
The casino at French Lick Springs sports 51,000 square feet of slot machines and table games. Golf is also big here with a new 18-hole Pete Dye Golf course. Situated high on a neighboring mountain with rolling hills to challenge a seasoned sportsman, the Pete Dye course has been selected as the site for the 2010 PGA Professionals National Championship.
When gambling and golfing wear you down, retreat to one of the hotels’ elaborate spas.
The Spa at French Lick features 24 rooms offering a diverse selection of treatments, including an hour-long hydrotherapy treatment. The Spa at West Baden features a newly renovated 2-level natatorium housing a pool, salon, and health club.
Both hotels offer spa treatments that include bathing in the mineral springs that made the area famous.
Be sure to top off your stay with a visit to the Grand Colonnade Buffet. The Restaurant in the French Lick Hotel formerly served as a ballroom where Franklin D. Roosevelt received his party’s support to run for President. Look above your head to notice chandeliers adorned with 25,000 crystals and Trompe l’oeil art on the ceiling.
The West Baden Springs Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places In 1974; in 1987 it earned designation as a National Historic Landmark.
For more information go to www.frenchlick.com
Reprinted with permission of the News-Sentinel www.news-sentinel.com
Photos by Kayleen Reusser