If you enjoy great architecture, the West Baden Springs Hotel in Indiana is a sight to behold.
The hotel features an enormous domed atrium that was the largest free-spanning dome in the U.S. until 1955. It was the largest dome in the world from 1902-1913.
From the hotel's web site I learned that George Rogers Clark discovered the area's mineral springs and salt licks in 1778. Due to the beauty of the land and the belief in curative powers of the springs, the area was ripe for resort development.
In 1832, the French Lick Springs Hotel was built. In 1855, a hotel was built in the town of Mile Lick, which later became known as West Baden.
By the late 19th century, seven rail lines brought guests from all over the U.S. to the area.
In 1901, the entire hotel was destroyed by fire. Then owner Lee W. Sinclair took the opportunity to build the hotel of his dreams, complete with the world's largest dome, decorated like the grandest spas of Europe. The architect was Harrison Albright.
In 1902 the hotel opened for business and advertisements touted it as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The grounds included golf courses, bowling, a pony and bike track, swimming and more and attracted the likes of Al Capone and professional baseball teams.
The hotel was used for other purposes from the 1960s-1980s and was in fairly good shape then but eventually fell into disrepair. In 1991 a portion of the exterior wall collapsed.
The West Baden Springs Hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974 and was reopened as a hotel in 2007 at a cost of almost $100 million in restoration.
Even if you do not plan to stay at one of the hotels guest rooms, you can tour the hotel or dine in the on-site restaurant.
I visited this fall, as some of my grandfather's family had settled in the Martin County, Indiana area.
Stepping in to the beautiful domed atrium with the floor lined with millions of tiny mosaic tiles and seeing how tall the dome was, I would have expected the room to carry a lot of noise, but it was as serene as a library and quite peaceful.
We toured the grounds and walked along sweeping porches lined with rocking chairs where people enjoyed a cup of coffee or a good book.
Walking the circular halls we took in all of the historic photographs and soaked up some of the history of what this hotel has been and what it has been through to emerge once again as a beautiful example of architecture.
I hope to spend a night at the hotel in the next year or two.
West Baden Springs Hotel
8538 West Baden Avenue
French Lick, IN 47469