French Lick Springs Hotel History

For more than 170 years, a lodging establishment has operated at the current site of French Lick Springs Hotel. It all began with Dr. William Bowles and continued to thrive under various owners. It was under Tom Taggart's innovative direction that French Lick Springs Hotel made great strides in décor, development and transportation. He also built pavilions for the springs and added a new bath building on the current site of the Spa at French Lick Springs Hotel. After Taggart’s son eventually sold the hotel, it was owned by five companies over a span of 60 years, operating out of five different states. In 2005, French Lick Springs Hotel was purchased by Indiana-based Cook Group, Inc. and after a complete restoration, it returned the hotel back to its historic splendor.

Dr. William Bowles


In 1845, Dr. William Bowles, a physician from nearby Paoli, Indiana, built a three-story wooden framed hotel he named French Lick Springs Hotel. Bowles used his knowledge as a physician to explore the healing properties of the abundant mineral springs in this area.

Tom Taggart



Outgoing mayor of Indianapolis, Tom Taggart, along with a small group of investors, formed the French Lick Hotel Company and bought the property in 1901. Taggart’s improvements included enlarging the east wing (now known as the Spa Wing), encouraging the Monon Railroad to lay a special spur and run daily trains between Chicago and the front entrance of the hotel, and modernizing and expanding the mineral springs for which the hotel was becoming famous. He used the yellow "French Lick Brick," scagliola (faux marble) and Italian mosaic floors. He also built a new bottling house for water from his Pluto Spring for national distribution and brought electricity, a freshwater system and a trolley line to the town.

Tom Bendelow



While French Lick Springs Hotel was expanding, the game of golf was gaining popularity worldwide. In 1907, Taggart hired Tom Bendelow to design the resort’s first championship golf course, known at the time as the Springs Valley Golf Links Course. Bendelow’s design was completed by 1910.

Donald Ross



In 1917, Donald Ross — a well-known golf architect — was hired to design and build the French Lick Springs Golf Course two miles southwest of French Lick Springs Hotel. The locals referred to it as “The Hill Course.” Completed in three years, Ross’s course consisted of unconventional bunkers and steep curves. Also in 1917 while the Ross Course was under construction, world-famous chef Louis Perrin created the first tomato juice as a drink after he ran out of oranges one morning at the resort and could not serve the traditional orange juice.

Walter Hagen



The PGA Championship was held on the Donald Ross Course in September of 1924. Walter Hagen defeated former champion Jim Barnes in the final round. The victory was the beginning of a four-year PGA winning streak for Hagen.


Franklin D. Roosevelt



While Taggart served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee prior to his death, French Lick Springs Hotel developed a reputation as the unofficial headquarters of the national Democratic Party. At the 1931 Democratic Governors’ Conference held at French Lick Springs Hotel, Franklin D. Roosevelt rounded up support for his party’s presidential nomination. Roosevelt received his official nomination one year later in Chicago.

Tom Taggart Jr.



Thomas D. Taggart took over ownership of the hotel upon his father’s death in 1929. Under his ownership, French Lick Springs Hotel survived the dark days of the Great Depression and saw a growth in convention business. On Nov. 29, 1946, Thomas sold his prized hotel to a syndicate out of New York City. For the first time in more than 45 years, the French Lick Springs Hotel belonged to someone other than a Taggart.

Derby Weekend Raid on illegal gambling



A few months after Thomas D. Taggart's death in January 1949, the infamous Derby Weekend Raid on illegal gambling was conducted in French Lick by Indiana State Police. Hotel guests returning by train from the Kentucky Derby were shocked to find chains on the doors of the gambling establishments throughout town. The new governor had pledged to end gambling in French Lick and he did so on one of the busiest hotel weekends of the year.

French Lick Sheraton Hotel



In 1955, the French Lick Springs Hotel was bought by the Sheraton Corporation, which began a grand remodel of the hotel in an effort to modernize it. Visible changes included lowering a number of ceilings covering the ornate plaster cornices and covering numerous wooden and marble floors as well as the mosaic tiles in the lobby with black and white linoleum square tiles and carpet.

Ladies Professional Golf Association



Competitive women’s golf got its start in French Lick in 1958, when the Donald Ross-designed Hill Course hosted the inaugural French Lick Women’s Open with Hall of Famer Louise Suggs winning that tournament. This event was such a surprise success that, for the next two years, the Ladies Professional Golf Association brought its coveted LPGA Championship to French Lick. In 1959 Betsy Rawls won the major title, the first of her two LPGA Championships titles, and the legendary Mickey Wright took home the title in 1960. That was the fourth of Wright’s 13 major titles.

Cox Hotel Corporation's French Lick Springs Golf and Tennis Resort



Sheraton sold the hotel to the Cox Hotel Corporation of New York in 1979. Other than the hotel being renamed as French Lick Springs Golf and Tennis Resort, little changed around the property under this new ownership. Many of the employees remained at the hotel, and convention business remained steady. French Lick Springs Hotel continued to change ownership for the next few decades.

French Lick Springs Villas



In the 1980’s, the land behind the French Lick Springs Hotel was purchased by Maryland businessman Norman R. Rales’ company with the intent to build villas on the land. Eventually becoming timeshare packages, the French Lick Springs Villas grew to over 50 in number by the time Rales’ company purchased the hotel and its grounds in the mid-80s. Vacationers purchasing time at the villas were also able to use the hotel’s amenities.

Luther James of Louisville, KY



Five years after purchasing the resort, Norman R. Rales decided to retire from the business and put the resort up for auction in 1991. Nearly five minutes after bidding began on auction day, the resort had a new owner. Luther James of Louisville, Kentucky, bought the hotel for $2.6 million and immediately began work on restoring the hotel to its previous state of grandeur. He began by undoing many of the renovations conducted by the Sheraton, including restoring the lobby’s mosaic floor tiles. James also gave the guests rooms a much-needed upgrade with new wallpaper, carpeting, paint, furniture and up-to-date heating and air-conditioning units. He paid significant attention to the lobby by bringing in antique pieces of decoration, adding curtains and completely repainting the area. The exterior of the hotel also received a fresh coat of paint and hundreds of flowers were planted.

Boykin Lodging Group



After six years of ownership, James decided to sell the resort in 1997 and move on to his next big project. Boykin Lodging Group, based in Cleveland, Ohio, bought the hotel for approximately $20 million. Boykin operated hotels from the Midwest to Florida, and the purchase of the French Lick Springs Hotel was the largest resort hotel in their portfolio at the time. Boykin continued with the restoration upgrades that had been started by James.

COOK Group, Inc.



In the spring of 2005, a partnership led by Cook Group, Inc., a global medical device manufacturing company headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana, purchased French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel. Under the direction of Bill and Gayle Cook and their son Carl, both hotels and their grounds received a multi-million dollar renovation, returning them to the grandeur of the days of Taggart and uniting them as one resort. That summer, with renovation work underway, Blue Sky, LLC officially acquired the 11th and last available casino license from the Indiana Gaming Commission. French Lick Springs Hotel remained open during the beginning of construction, but as concerns arose, the hotel was forced to close in November.

The Donald Ross Course at French Lick



The Donald Ross Course at French Lick (formerly the Hill Course) reopened in September 2006 after a $4.6 million restoration. This rehaul returned the course to Donald Ross’ early vision. One year after closing, French Lick Springs Hotel reopened after an extensive renovation. On the same day, the French Lick Casino held its grand opening, becoming the first land-based casino in Indiana. With the completion of the West Baden Springs Hotel restoration in 2007, French Lick Resort was born.

French Lick Casino underwent an extensive renovation



French Lick Casino underwent an extensive renovation in 2009. The exterior of the casino was transformed from resembling a steamboat on water to the appearance seen today. Additions on the interior included an increased number of slots, a bar, table games, VIP lounge and a new high-limits section.

French Lick Resort hosted The Legends Championship on The Pete Dye Course



In 2013, women’s professional golf returned to the area for the first time in 50 years when French Lick Resort hosted The Legends Championship featuring 70 of the top players in LPGA history at The Pete Dye Course. Past champions of the tournament include Lorie Kane, Laurie Rinker and Juli Inkster. The Dye Course has continued hosting the Senior LPGA event every year since.

Trolley service is back to the resort towns of French Lick and West Baden



French Lick Resort brought trolley service back to French Lick and West Baden at the end of 2014. The trolley’s history spans many decades, starting in 1903, when it ran from the steps of West Baden Springs Hotel into downtown French Lick. The advent of the automobile put the brakes on the trolley service in 1919. After years of hard work, our newly restored trolley is again running between the two hotels.

the 76th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid was held on The Pete Dye Course



A $20 million expansion of the Event Center was completed in January 2015, increasing the capacity to more than 105,000 square feet of meeting space. The overall expansion of 58,000 square feet, including a 22,000-square-foot adjustable ballroom, allows the resort to accommodate national conventions and large corporations that require larger space. On May 21-24 of 2015, the 76th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid was held at The Pete Dye Course. Defending champion Colin Montgomerie of Scotland successfully defended his title with an 8-under-par, beating former boxer Esteban Toledo of Mexico.