West Baden Springs Hotel
Image by cindy47452
Built in 1902, the hotel was a health spa and resort that capitalized on several mineral springs located on the property. The hotel operated from 1902 until 1932, never recovering from the Wall Street Crash of 1929. It became a Jesuit seminary in 1934 and in 1966 became a branch campus of Northwood Institute. Vacant after 1983, the "Eighth Wonder of the World" slipped into extreme decay, resulting in the collapse of a good portion of the west wall in 1991. In 1992, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the hotel as one of America’s most endangered places.
Bill Cook, a Bloomington, Indiana, entrepreneur and billionaire, financed a partial restoration of the property by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana which assumed ownership in 1996. It was marketed nationally for almost ten years without a buyer and over 400,000 visitors toured the hotel. In 2006, title was transferred to a subsidiary of Bill Cook’s Cook Group to become a part of the French Lick Resort Casino development. In May 2007, the building began hosting guests as a hotel in 246 luxury rooms for the first time since 1932.
The springs were first found in the late 1700s by a former soldier of the American Revolution who had made a name for himself. In 1852, John Lane built a hotel on the site called the Mile Lick Inn and later changed the name to West Baden Inn. In 1887, the Monon railroad built an extension to take guests to the springs and the hotel. Lee Wiley Sinclair from Salem, Indiana bought the hotel in 1888 and added an opera house, a casino and a two-deck, covered, one-third-mile oval bicycle and pony track. A lighted baseball diamond in the center of the track became the spring training grounds for several major league teams including the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. When that hotel burned in 1901, owner Lee Sinclair declared that the new hotel would be fireproof and would have the world’s largest dome. West Virginia architect Harrison Albright completed the new West Baden Springs Hotel on time.
Prior to the completion of the Houston Astrodome in 1965, the building had the largest free-spanning dome in the United States and was the largest in the world from 1902-1913. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, became a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and is a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.