The first time I walked through the West Baden Springs Hotel, it was in ruins. The second time, it was a masterpiece.
When it opened in 1902, the West Baden Springs Hotel was the pride of French Lick, a tiny town in southern Indiana. Dignitaries from around the country attended its opening ceremony, and everyone who entered was in awe of the 200-foot-tall dome covering the hotel’s massive atrium. Advertising at the time called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.
But time wasn’t kind to the hotel; it closed during the Great Depression, and after a brief period of use as a Jesuit school, it sat empty and crumbling for decades. In the early 2000s, though, a group of preservationists banded together to save the landmark structure and reopen it as a hotel.
That’s when I first toured the property. Work had just begun on shoring up the structure, and my hosts and I had to step over rubble and age-old debris. But even in this condition, the property’s potential was obvious, and its domed atrium was striking.
The hotel finally reopened in 2007, 75 years after it closed. The owners spent more than $100 million on the restoration, and when I visited again shortly after the opening, I was amazed at the makeover. The hotel’s historic architecture was beautifully preserved, and guest rooms were rebuilt with a host of modern luxury conveniences.
For groups traveling through southern Indiana, an afternoon or overnight stop at the West Baden Springs Hotel will make a lasting impression.