Long Neglected, Resort is Now the "Eighth Wonder of the World" Again
A Journey into French Lick, Indiana
For years French Lick, Indiana was known as the home of basketball legend Larry Bird.
But before Larry Bird, French Lick had been famous as a resort area.
French Lick was originally a French trading post built near a spring and salt lick. The sulfur springs were commercially exploited for medical benefits starting in 1840. By the later half of the 19th century, French Lick was famous in the United States as a spa town. In the early 20th century it also featured casinos attracting celebrities such as boxer Joe Louis, composer Irving Berlin and gangster Al Capone.
It boasted a magnificent, the West Baden Springs Hotel, which along with its neighbor, French Lick Springs, attracted the nation's wealthy and well-connected for its leisure activities, including illegal gambling.
During World War II, with wartime travel restrictions, the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox held spring training in French Lick from 1943-1944; in 1945 the Cubs stayed in town while the White Sox moved to Terre Haute - utilizing Memorial Stadium. In order to conserve rail transport during World War II, 1943 spring training was limited to an area east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River.
When tough times hit they hit the area hard: West Baden closed, and, in recent years, sat abandoned and near ruin. The end seemed near-a consultant at the time urged: "Let it fall down. It's too far gone."
The today resort has also restored a historic trolley that runs the one-mile route between the West Baden and the French Lick Springs, where Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to run for president at a National Governors' Convention in 1932.