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"The Eighth Wonder": West Baden's Headline-Making Origin

August 24, 2023
West Baden Springs Hotel, shortly before its opening in 1902

You may have heard West Baden Springs Hotel was regarded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

But where did that lofty declaration originate?

Well, here it is. In full detail. “The Eighth Wonder … the immense new hotel at West Baden justly deserves the honor” was proclaimed in the August 25, 1902 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal — a teaser before the hotel opened to guests a few weeks later. Way before social media and TV news ever existed, imagine opening your morning paper to news of a hotel with an inner courtyard and a dome on top. Nothing like it existed at the time. As the story states, you had to see it to believe it really existed.

Read all about it, from 121 years ago.

Historic West Baden Springs Hotel

The Largest Dome in the World – An Absolutely Fireproof System Throughout.

For several weeks parties returning from French Lick and West Baden Springs have reported that a handsome new hotel was nearing completion at West Baden, which in point of magnitude and architectural beauty surpassed anything they had ever seen. Each one who mentioned the building sang its praise and spoke of it as something unique, entirely original in design and a wonder worth going many miles to see.

Historic West Baden Springs HotelThe manager of the Industrial Department of the Courier-Journal recently paid a visit to West Baden with the expressed purpose of going through the hotel from top to bottom and finding out the truth about these reports. “Seeing is believing” and anyone who will take the time to visit the immense structure and learn all the details of its construction will be filled at once with a great admiration for the men whose genius and enterprise have made its erection possible.

In choosing each of its seven great wonders, the world has had no better criterion than uniqueness and decided originality of design and a superlative difference in the object selected from any other of its kind. Mammoth Cave is not the only large cave in existence, but it is a “wonder” because of its superlative difference in size from any other discovered. And so with Niagara Falls. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only tower in the world, but it is the only one that leans – it is unique and entirely original in that detail of its construction.

In like manner the new hotel at West Baden might be very justly accounted the eighth wonder of the world, because it is both unique and original in its architectural design, and in two distinct features, at least. It is superlatively different from other large hotels in this and foreign countries. … May the new West Baden Hotel stand like the Pyramids, a living monument to the genius of Mr. Sinclair, who devised the plan and backed the enterprise, and to the indomitable pluck and readiness of the architect, contractors and others who have had a hand in its erection.

Historic West Baden Springs Hotel

A New Idea in Hotel Building – All “Front” Rooms.

All hotels are built on the idea of having halls with bedrooms on either side. Those where the windows open to the outside air are “choice front rooms” – others are not.

It has remained for the Hon. Lee W. Sinclair, who was the owner and manager of the old hotel at West Baden, to solve this difficulty in the conception of an entirely new idea in building a large hotel. His idea was to have a building constructed with a great inner court and the rooms so arranged that every one might be a “front” room and a “choice” one in every detail. … The rooms facing the inside or inner court will prove to be the most popular and desirable. … (The new hotel’s) construction is simply understood by having six floors of halls and bedrooms twisted into a circle, the inner rooms forming a perfect circle, the outer built in the shape of an octahedron of 15 sections of 60 feet each, making an outer circumference. So ingeniously has the architect utilized the angles made by the twist that scarcely an inch of space has been wasted, all such corners being devoted to water closets and (traditional) closets, hot and cold water for toilet, which will be present in each of the rooms. The inner court, 200 feet in diameter, is known as the atrium. Over this Mr. Sinclair has erected his huge “umbrella,” a glass and tile covered dome, which is the largest ever constructed, and a wonder in itself.

Historic West Baden Springs Hotel

The Mighty Dome.

Even before leaving the train, the great dome attracts the visitor’s attention and holds him spellbound. One may obtain a fair idea of its size when it is truthfully stated that this dome is larger than the one at St. Petersburg and that of the capitol at Washington. The hub or drum of this dome is 10 feet high and 16 feet in diameter and weighs 8½ tons. From this hub 24 ribs each weighing 4½ tons radiate out to the building and rest on pillars with heavily concreted bases so that something more than an earthquake would be needed to displace them. The expansion and contraction of the dome is taken care of by rollers on top of the columns. Ventilating devices around the base of the dome secure a constant current of air, so that the inner court is the coolest spot in West Baden in summer and promises to be the most pleasant in winter.

On the fourth and sixth floors facing the court are a series of individual balconies from which to view the promenaders below. A fountain in the center of the atrium, concrete walks about it, freshness of evergreens and hothouse plants, and the sweet scents of flowers will make it a veritable paradise. One of the most unique attractions of the court will be an old-fashioned fireplace, large enough to accommodate a 14-foot log.

Imagine a beautiful summer garden, where all the flowers are in bloom and their odors are combined with all the tantalizing perfumes of the woods, and the music of the splendid orchestra – then think of a winter night, with popcorn and hickory nuts, when the light from the blazing black logs fills even the saddest heart with wholesome cheer — there you have a picture of the delightful times in store for West Baden guests.

Countless letters have poured in asking when the magnificent structure will be completed and what the rates will be. It should be stated that the old rates will prevail — $2 to $5 per day.

Historic West Baden Springs Hotel

Every Modern Convenience.

Guests at the new hotel will have every convenience that nature and lavish expenditure of money can furnish. There will be steam heat, electric lights, toilet facilities and long-distance telephone in each room. On the first floor, besides parlors and a magnificent lobby with Corinthian columns, there will be numerous rooms for commercial purposes, including a national bank, gents’ furnishing house, drug store, Oriental bazars and barber shop. There will be four elevators for the accommodation of guests. Drinking fountains will be found on every floor. Rugs instead of carpets and iron beds will be used throughout the building. It is interesting to note that the number of cubic feet to be heated will exceed 5 million cubic feet.

Historic West Baden Springs Hotel

Hotel Ballroom, Exquisite Dining Room and Well-Furnished Kitchen.

Next to the main building is another brick structure, the upper portion of which holds the ballroom … (it) will excite the admiration of all the lady visitors to the hotel. In the lower part of this building is the main dining room and four additional private dining rooms. All of these are superb in all of their furnishings, and will be brilliantly lighted. The kitchen buildings include seven big refrigerating rooms, and the hotel operates its own ice machine. There is a brick oven for making the finest French bread. Next to this trio of fireproof buildings, arcades join the largest enclosed bathrooms (en suite) in the world. Arrangements have been perfected for sulphur, Turkish and mud baths with separate compartments for ladies and gentlemen. The natatorium is 32 by 120 feet and has a varying depth of water.

Historic West Baden Springs Hotel

Means of Recreation.

Historic West Baden Springs HotelNumerous buildings dot the ground for the pleasure and recreation of West Baden’s guests. There is a large gymnasium, operahouse, and handball and tennis court rooms. An oval covered bicycle and pony track one-third of a mile in circumference encircles the ball field, and driveways, fishing and game reserves are provided for the comfort and entertainment of guests. There are in all about 700 acres of land connected with the West Baden Springs Hotel.

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