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The "Other" Hotels That Made French Lick & West Baden a Hotspot

Brown Hotel in French Lick

French Lick Springs Hotel. West Baden Springs Hotel.

Certainly seems like enough hotel for two tiny towns, right?

Believe it or not, there was a time when these two were just the start.

French Lick and West Baden were once home to nearly two dozen additional hotels and boarding houses over the first three decades of the 1900s. This was *the* place to be, especially with not-so-secret underground gambling operations as the major draw at many of these smaller hotels. Here’s a look back at some of them.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Brown Hotel

Casinos were operating on the French Lick and West Baden Springs Hotel properties until 1906, when authorities raided and closed them. Gambling activities then shifted to independently owned hotels and supper clubs that housed casinos. The largest one was Al Brown’s hotel, which was literally a stone’s throw across the street from French Lick Springs Hotel.

This four-story structure was the largest of the “other” hotels but was best known for its night life. Every evening, guests flocked from French Lick Springs Hotel over to the Brown for an evening of socializing and gambling.

The Brown mirrored French Lick Springs Hotel with its yellow brick, and part of it lives on today at French Lick Resort. The exterior dome of French Lick Casino was patterned after the dome that once topped The Brown.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Burton House

Built in 1890, the four-story Burton House was one of the earliest community hotels. It offered guest rooms, food and gambling at rates of $1 to $1.50 per day(!) It was destroyed by fire in January 1911.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Claxton Hotel

Guests could conveniently access the Claxton Hotel by taking the rail trolley that used to loop between French Lick and West Baden. (You can see in the photo how similar the original trolley is to the replica rail trolley today at French Lick Resort.) The Claxon Hotel featured 50 guest rooms in downtown French Lick.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden

Built in 1902 (the same year as West Baden Springs Hotel), the Colonial was a higher-end hotel with a stately lobby, formal dining room and well-known gambling club. West Baden Springs Hotel Ed Ballard became the owner of the Colonial and opened up the Hoosier Country Club which allowed Sunday gambling. It was lost to a fire in March of 1935, and today, the Jay C grocery store is located where the Colonial once stood.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Gorge Inn

The Gorge Inn was an elegant supper club for West Baden and French Lick Springs Hotel guests to enjoy, with a countryside atmosphere, double-arched entrance, fountains, gardens and a manmade lake. It was also famous for delicious food, especially the fried chicken.

But it was most well-known for gambling. Local legend holds that there used to be a network of underground tunnels between The Gorge and the hotels at French Lick and West Baden, so people could come and go in secret. Al Capone was rumored among those who used these tunnels while frequenting the Gorge.

After the state raided and closed local casinos in 1949, the building was used as a sanitarium and nursing home before being destroyed in 2017.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Homestead Hotel

Built in 1913, the Homestead Hotel is one of the few on this list that has stood the test of time. The classic three-story building offered guest rooms and gambling, and it remained a hotel until 1976 when it was converted into dormitories for Northwood Institute. In 2001, was restored to retain many of its original features and historic charm.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West BadenToday it houses businesses and apartments. You can grab a cup of coffee or sandwich at the West Baden Bagel Bistro, then walk out the door and you’re right across the road from the archway entrance to West Baden Springs Hotel.


Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Hotel Windsor, Hotel Clifton & Hotel Pavillion

These three hotels were once in close proximity on what is now the grounds of French Lick Springs Hotel.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West BadenThe Clifton doubled as a hotel and casino before being shut down by the state in the 1906 raid. It stood where the Spring Wing of French Lick Springs Hotel is located today.

The Windsor, the largest of these three – featured guest rooms, kitchen and dining room. It was partially destroyed by fire in October 1897. After the fire, Windsor was rebuilt bigger and better, and became a portion of the front part of the present-day French Lick Springs Hotel.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden

Hotel Pavilion was spared in the 1897 fire, because it was distanced from the Windsor and Clifton buildings. Pavilion was located on what is today the front lawn of French Lick Springs Hotel.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Oxford Hotel

Recognize this building? The former Oxford Hotel is now the Visit French Lick West Baden visitors center, which greets you when you drive into town from the east.

John Bartlett, chef and chief steward at West Baden Springs Hotel, opened the Oxford Hotel in 1913. In the basement of the hotel was the Blind Tiger with gambling and liquor. The Oxford had a bit of a reputation — to the point that children were sometimes told to walk on the opposite side of the street.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Ritter House

John Ritter was one busy guy—he was a doctor in town, owned a drugstore, then opened his own hotel. The Ritter House promised handsomely furnished and comfortable accommodations at less expensive rates than West Baden Springs Hotel just up the road.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Round Top Inn

What’s one more hotel in your portfolio? Lee Sinclair, who owned West Baden Springs Hotel, bought this boarding house in 1907 and changed the name from Howard House to Round Top Inn. It offered great hilltop views overlooking West Baden and most of French Lick, and was also noted for its Southern fried chicken, baked steak, and melt-in-your-mouth frog legs.

Sulphur, mud and Turkish baths were offered here. Some of the rooms offered private baths (a big deal back then!) and the sulphur water was pumped into the hotel for drinking and bathing.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Sutton Hotel

The four-story Sutton Hotel was built atop local Bedford limestone and boasted the finest accommodations and steam heating – for the low price of $10 per week. During a stretch in 1918-19 when West Baden Springs Hotel was used an Army hospital for World War I soldiers, the Sutton Hotel housed the hospital’s nursing staff.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Toliver Hotel

The Toliver featured accommodations for 60 guests and was right around the corner from the French Lick Springs Hotel property. Today, you’ll find the French Lick police station and fire department on this site.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Waddy Hotel

The two-story boarding house was built around 1910 and was one of two hotels in the community that accommodated Black visitors—including a couple prominent guests.

Anita Patti Brown, a famous concert singer of the era, stayed at the Waddy and performed at West Baden Springs Hotel in January 1917, just days before the hotel’s opera house was destroyed in a fire. Brown, known as the “globe-trotting prima donna,” was considered to be the first Black concert singer to have her voice recorded. Also in 1917, Margaret Washington, the widow of Booker T. Washington, stayed at the Waddy during a visit to speak at a school graduation.

Historic Hotels in French Lick and West Baden
Wells Hotel

A period advertisement for Wells Hotel touted hot and cold Pluto mineral water, as well as “electric bells and all modern conveniences … steam heat, inside toilets.” The ad also noted “Hotel Open the Year Round,” which was a selling point as some hotels during this era closed during winter months.

Originally built as a general store, Wells was also one of the largest area hotels with a capacity of 150 guests.

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