Only thing I knew about French Lick, Indiana, is that it’s the hometown of NBA legend Larry Bird, and that French Lick is kind of a funny name. Turns out, French Lick is home to a gorgeous, grand resort with an intriguing history that, today, is a dream for vacationing families.
The name. Before going any further, let’s talk about the unusual name of the town, French Lick. As the story goes, early settlers to the area were French traders. When they arrived, the area was teeming with wildlife and active mineral springs (this will be a recurring theme). Instead of drawing water from other natural sources, the wildlife gravitated to the mineral springs, reportedly seen “licking” the liquid gurgling from the ground. The French allegedly were so tickled by this that they named the area after themselves (French) and the pastime of the local wildlife that the French found to be so humorous (Lick).
The springs. The two hotels that make up French Lick Resort today were originally built to capitalize on the abundant mineral springs. Doctors claimed the spring waters had healing properties and knew that if people caught wind of it, they would come in droves. And come in droves they did for the healing powers of the mineral waters, which purportedly remedied ninety-two different ailments ranging from alcoholism to syphilis. Active springs still bubble up from the ground today but they’re not nearly as bountiful as they were a century ago.
The history. The original French Lick Springs Hotel first opened its doors in 1845. Over the next several decades, the hotel would undergo major transformations and ownership would change hands. But it’s former Indianapolis mayor Tom Taggart that is credited most with advancing the hotel to its current state of grandeur. Taggart built pavilions to shelter the mineral springs that made the hotel famous. He also introduced electricity and a fresh water system to the hotel. Even more notable was Taggart’s influence to get the Monon Railroad to lay a special spur and run daily trains between Chicago and French Lick. Passengers were able to board and disembark the train directly at the front entrance of the hotel.
West Baden Springs Hotel is the second property that makes up the French Lick Resort. The site’s original structure was built in 1855 but was destroyed by fire in 1901. Then-owner Lee W. Sinclair took the rebuilding opportunity to construct the hotel of his dreams, fashioned after Europe’s grandest spas. Sinclair’s new hotel opened in June of 1902. Over the next several decades, like the French Lick Springs Hotel, ownership of West Baden switched hands, even landing under the possession of the Jesuit order of priests. In 1974, West Baden was listed as a National Historic Landmark, but, unfortunately, the property fell into disrepair and fell victim to the elements. In January 1991, a portion of the hotel’s exterior wall collapsed under the buildup of ice and water. After years of construction, and new owners and investors, both French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs Hotels were returned to the splendor first envisioned by Lee W. Sinclair. In 2006, French Lick Springs Hotel reopened; West Baden Springs Hotel followed shortly after in 2007, and the French Lick Resort was born.
The present. Today, French Lick Resort is one of the Midwest’s premier family travel destinations. With long lists of amenities and activities like golf, biking, live entertainment, casino gaming, and full-service spas, it’s impossible to not enjoy your time at French Lick Resort. I could go on and on here about all the fun my family and I had at the resort over spring break, but this post would turn out to be longer than the resort’s history. Instead, I’ll feature all the family fun in subsequent posts. There’s plenty of fun to go around!
My family and I were guests of French Lick Resort. I was in no way swayed by the majestic properties and insane amount of fun to write positively about the resort. All opinions, as always, are my own.