On one of our wintertime back roads drives, we found ourselves in French Lick and West Baden Springs, two adjoining small towns in southern Indiana. (This is home country for basketball great Larry Bird...'the hick from French Lick')
It's also the home of 2 of the least known and most fabulous resorts in the USA. This is the West Baden Springs Hotel. It has a 200' domed atrium and 243 rooms/suites. The hotel was built in 1902 to replace an earlier hotel that had burned down. (The original was built in 1845) The current hotel was built to be 'fire proof' and it was completed in only 1 year! Many famous and infamous guests stayed here but the stock market crash in 1929 resulted in the closing of the hotel. It was subsequently operated as a college until 1985 when it was abandoned. The building was in a shambles when it was rescued and totally remodeled/refurbished around 2005.
This is the famous French Lick Springs Hotel, the other and larger hotel in this resort complex. This 443 room hotel is deceptively luxurious inside while it appears to be a bit institutional on the outside. It was built in 1901 when the mayor of Indianapolis bought the property and built the hotel. (The first resort hotel was built on the property back in 1845) I actually stayed here back in the 1970's and played golf on the 'one-way' golf course. (The 18th hole was no where near the 1st tee like most golf courses today) The hotel was pretty shabby at that point. The renovation of both hotels was completed by a billionaire entrepreneur, Bill Cook, President of the privately held Cook Group. He spent over $500 million to bring these properties back to life. Of course, there was an incentive...the adjoining casino he was allowed to build on the site...
So, in the early days, how did guests travel to the West Baden Springs and French Lick hotels? Why...via a railroad of course! The Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railroad, (The Monon), built a stone depot, opened a line to the area in 1888 and, at it's peak, 7 different lines served the resort and the surrounding communities.
The French Lick Railroad Museum now occupies the former depot... This is a former Mobile & Gulf 2-6-0 Locomotive that's on static display adjacent to the Depot. The museum was closed during our visit so my research has been via the Internet and I had to make a few assumptions based on what I could find online.
Here we have a former 2-6-0 locomotive on static display from the Angelina & Neches Railway, (Lufkin TX), now identified as part of the French Lick, Baden & Southern Grant Railroad.
The Indiana Railway Museum operates diesel powered 20 mile train rides via the French Lick Scenic Railroad from March through December. For more information, go to http://www.indianarailwaymuseum.org/.
Looking colder than any of the other locomotives, this is a 0-4-0T engine obtained from the Indiana & Ohio Gravel Railroad. It's too bad that these great old steam locomotives can't be sheltered from the elements year around.
French Lick is closer to Louisville Kentucky than it is to Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to the resort/casino complex and the Railway Museum, this is a very scenic area. For more information on the French Lick/West Baden Springs Resort, go to http://www.frenchlick.com/.