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The Earliest Resort Snapshots from the 1800s

Historic French Lick 1800's

They say a photo is worth a thousand words. We’d argue that these snapshots are even far more valuable than that.

Only a handful of photos exist from the 1800s, and these are the select few. (If only the iPhones existed in 1850….) Feast your eyes on the earliest known images of the hotel grounds at French Lick and West Baden Springs Hotels. 

Pictured at the top of the page: The first hotel on the French Lick Springs Hotel property, circa 1850. On the right side of the photo, notice the dark-colored platform where there is an opening of the white fence. This is where guests stepped out of their stagecoaches or buggies when arriving at the hotel. 

First Hotel circa 1850
Circa 1870s, when the original hotel expanded in subsequent years.
early photo of French Lick Springs Hotel
A closer view of guests enjoying the hotel. Originally, French Lick Springs Hotel was open seasonally, closing during some of the winter months and reopening for what was referred to as "the watering season."
The Original Mile Lick Inn
The original Mile Lick Inn, now the site of West Baden Springs Hotel. This hotel opened in 1855, deriving the "Mile Lick" name as it was located one mile up the road from French Lick. 
Mile Lick Inn, Early expansion
Similarly, Mile Lick Inn underwent a series of expansions. This wing was added in the 1890s and housed the natatorium. The hotel was destroyed by fire just a few years later in 1901, setting the stage for the lavish new domed structure that we know today. 
Easy Money Club West Baden
The "Easy Money Club" at West Baden Springs, with the original hotel in the background. These gentlemen are identified as coming from all over: Louisville, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Iowa. It's unclear what "Easy Money" is all about, but gambling operations were big in West Baden and French Lick during this time — and, July 8, 1899 was a Saturday so maybe these guys were in town for a little fun. One thing we know for sure: some of those mustaches, quite literally, are on point.
The orginial Pluto Spring House
The original Pluto Spring House structure dates to the mid to late 1800s. This was the first of three different structures that has stood over the famous mineral spring. The latest version still exists today in the French Lick Springs Hotel gardens. 
The Original West Baden Springs Dirt Driveway
Today, the front brick drive leads you to West Baden Springs Hotel. In the earliest days, it was a simple dirt road. A cool feature that was lost to time was the elevated boardwalk, which can be seen on the right side of the road. Follow it back, and you can catch a faint glimpse of the original hotel through the trees.
Bowles Spring
The Bowles Spring on the grounds of French Lick Springs Hotel, circa 1880. Talk about the picture of peace and serenity.
A couple at French Lick Springs Hotel's Lithia Spring
A couple at French Lick Springs Hotel's Lithia Spring, aka the Fresh Water Spring, circa 1890. "Going out for a drink" had a whole other meaning back then, when guests used these glasses attached to dipper sticks to drink directly from the springs.
old photography studio on the West Baden Springs Hotel
The small building in this photo is the old photography studio on the West Baden Springs Hotel grounds. This is near the Apollo Spring that exists today in the formal gardens. A sign of the times in the 1800s: the hotel employed a photographer who'd roam the grounds and take photos of guests. The studio was built atop posts to protect from high-water events — gotta keep those precious photos dry.
area surrounding French Lick Springs Hotel expanded
Dated between 1897 and 1900, this photo shows how the area surrounding French Lick Springs Hotel expanded to include other outbuildings and secondary hotels. In the next 10-15 years, a series of extensive additions transformed the hotel dramatically, giving it the look we see today.


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