A bygone era comes back to life at two period-correct, breathtaking properties
A century ago, wealthy Americans—even Europeans—spent their leisure time at secluded resorts and spas far removed from U.S. cities.
“These hotels were the Disney World of their time,” said Chris Bundy, author of West Baden Springs: Legacy of Dreams. “In those days, it was assumed that if you could afford to come to America [for vacation], you would go to French Lick. It was that well-known overseas.”
Connected by the Monon Railroad to the Midwest’s largest cities, the world’s sports and movie stars, power politicians and wealthy elite came to the area in southern Indiana to unwind, dine, gamble, golf and ride horseback.
But all that changed with the 1929 stock market crash and the dawn of the Great Depression. Worst hit was the luxurious West Baden Springs Hotel. Despite three high-flying decades in operation and its recognition by some as “the eighth wonder of the world,” its owners couldn’t find a buyer for the property. Ultimately they donated the massive and lavish facility to an order of Jesuit monks.
The French Lick Springs Hotel fared better, serving before and long after the crash as the unofficial headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. The Sheraton hotel company bought it in 1949 and maintained a brisk convention business, but chose not to maintain the hotel’s grand French Renaissance décor or repair its crumbling wood and concrete structure.
When preservationists moved to save both buildings in the 1990s, the French Lick was open, but haggard, and the West Baden, abandoned for a decade, was crumbling from the outside in. Preservation appeared hopeless until billionaire philanthropists William and Gayle Cook of Bloomington committed several million to shore them up.
The couple eventually embarked on not only a full restoration, modernization and reopening of both as working hotels, they added a casino at a final cost of $450 million. The result is a pair of period-correct, breathtaking properties that reopened in 2007, now operated as one property, and that AAA named among its top 10 historic hotels in 2009.
That the resort’s incredible restoration is so little known can be attributed to bad timing, according to Mark Bommarito, French Lick Resort’s sales and marketing vice-president. Many people remember French Lick in decline, while at the same time they’re provided with so many more travel and entertainment possibilities.
“When people think of fine resorts of this quality, they think of the upper East Coast or the mountains in Colorado, not a small town near Louisville, Kentucky,” Bommarito said.
A room with a jaw-dropping view
The atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel is an awe-inspiring space, a six-level, 246-room circular structure topped by a 200-foot-wide glass and steel free-spanning dome that was an architectural marvel in its day and, for years, the world’s largest of its kind. The floor is brilliantly patterned by millions of mosaic tiles and lengthy runways of sculpted carpet. Soaring from floor to dome are massive columns topped with gilded capitals. Throughout the expanse (and the hotel) are countless pieces of period-correct chairs and couches designed for lazy luxuriating. Lingering in the atrium with cocktails after sunset is an ethereal experience.
The French Lick Springs Hotel’s lobby is smaller, but also stunning. Colorful frescoes are framed in filigreed tray ceilings held aloft by painstakingly restored scagliola columns. An open mezzanine looking down on the lobby is a walking history tour, filled with charcoal sketches of famous visitors. A much larger and multi-structure hotel, French Lick boasts 443 rooms, a casino, conference center, sports complex and horse stables.
Opportunities for pampering are abundant at both hotels’ high-end spas. And for golfers, there are three choices including the new 8,100-yard-long Pete Dye-designed course, carved into the hills above the resort. From the clubhouse at the top, you can see more than 35 miles in any direction on clear days.
Fine food finds
The resort features multiple casual cafés, bars and a pizzeria, but its two high-end restaurants—1875: The Steakhouse (French Lick), and Sinclair’s (West Baden)—are true destination stops. Chef Robbie Bellew oversees banquets at both hotels, where all menus get seasonal treatments drawing from abundant supplies of foods raised on nearby rolling farmlands.
“I’m constantly pushing our purchasing department to get all they can from as close to home as possible,” said Bellew. The task isn’t easy since the beef and pork requirements of a large resort alone “could wipe out one farmer’s whole herd. So we take a particular strip loin for 1875, another cut for the Power Plant [Bar & Grill] and something else for Sinclair’s.”
During the summer, Sinclair’s serves a tasting of locally grown heirloom tomatoes, as well as fresh vegetable dishes sometimes inspired by chefs’ visits to the Orange County Farmers’ Market. Wherever possible, producers’ farms are recognized on menus. “We’re always trying to make the statement that our food comes from around here, not from California or Mexico,” said Bellew.
For golfers, the ideal meal would be served at the restored mansion-cum-clubhouse at the Pete Dye Course, but such an event is pricey for most: One must be a guest of either hotel, have played a round of golf that day ($350 for 18 holes) and still have enough funds for dinner.
But since such extraordinary treats rarely come his way, author Bundy said he’d eat at any spot at either hotel and then cap it off with a long rest in one of dozens of high-backed rocking chairs spread throughout both hotels’ spacious verandas.
“You can go to a nice restaurant, you can golf, ride horses or gamble, but when you allow yourself to sit in those rocking chairs and do nothing, your blood pressure will go down by 20 points,” he said. “That’s the calming effect both those hotels have on people.”
86 70 W. State Road 56
French Lick, Indiana 47432
For more information, visit frenchlick.com or call 888-936-9360.
Visitor’s tips: Depending on the time of year and frequently offered specials, stays at both hotels are relative bargains. Sign up for e-mail alerts to stay abreast of events.
This corn relish is served this over poblano chili–marinated flank steak from Briscoe Beef of Mitchell, Indiana.
At French Lick, they use something called “chilly dilly lemonade” as part of the marinade. It’s lemonade seasoned with sliced cucumber and fresh dill. You can substitute regular lemonade.—SC
5 or 6 ears corn on the cob
¼ cup diced red pepper
¼ cup diced green pepper
3 or 4 green onions, sliced very thin
Fresh herbs (basil, dill and thyme suggested)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup lemonade
Sea salt, to taste
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
Grill the corn to get some char on the husk. Allow it to cool and remove the charred husk and silk. Slice the corn off the cob and break it up in a bowl. Add the peppers, spring onions and chopped herbs to the bowl with the corn and toss.
In a separate bowl add the sugar and vinegar and whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the olive oil and lemonade season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour this mixture over the corn mixture and allow it to sit as long as you can stand it. Overnight will work best. Serve with a slotted spoon.
Jennifer Boren loves to garden and farm. It’s in her blood. So when her father was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, she knew healthy food had to be a part of his healthcare regimen. It was seeing her father struggle while ill and other patients’ struggles to access healthy food that flipped the switch for Jennifer. After her father passed, Jennifer and her husband bought their farm in Alexandria, Hellwig Farm, with the intention of starting both an onsite farm market and a special service. That was 2010.
Today Jennifer runs her successful farm market during the growing season. The surrounding community thinks of it as a peaceful place where people gather for iced tea and sit on the porch watching an afternoon pass. “I just like that it’s a happy place,” says Jennifer.
The farm market helps support her other passion—delivering fresh produce to people in her community who are facing a health crisis. Jennifer knows how hard it is for a family to access and prepare good food when someone is sick. Between the doctors’ visits, tests and all the time in between, families often return home exhausted with little energy to shop let alone cook.
So Jennifer delivers coolers stocked with fresh, seasonal produce to family’s doorstep with a note describing what vegetables she’s growing and some recipes for how to prepare the produce. Families can then leave a note in the cooler, listing what vegetables they like, don’t like and if they’d like to receive her complimentary service. If not, Jennifer asks if they know of someone who is sick who would like the cooler instead. Jennifer makes deliveries once a week all growing season long. She never knocks on doors or expects anything in return. She knows that when people are sick they want their privacy.
“I know my Dad would not have actively asked for anything like this,” she says. “I think it’s so important when people are struggling with any kind of health crisis…that healthy aspect is a hard component at the end of the day.”
Jennifer learns by word of mouth who might benefit from her service. “I live in a small town…,” she says. “Everybody knows when somebody is sick.”
It’s a model of care Jennifer innovated. When the idea first came to her she sought out healthcare professionals and asked for advice, possibly collaborations of some kind. Time and again she was met with the question, “Who does that?” People had a hard time believing her desire to give free vegetables to people who were sick or dying.
“I realized something so simple shouldn’t be so hard,” she says. “I realized no one was going to be a good partner with me in this and I just needed to do it. I don’t know that I’m doing it right but I know so far, so good, and I think that’s gotta be the most important part.”
This year, Jennifer is servicing 17 families. She talks about last year and how some of people she serviced passed away while some got better and traveled.
“I’m not looking to be big,” she says. “I just want to do this really small community thing.”
Jennifer’s husband, mother and friends help out and her kids enjoy working on the farm. She hopes some of the families come to visit the farm market and enjoy the peace it has to offer. Between the farm and her service, Jennifer radiates well-being to families in need out of pure passion. “It feeds my soul way more than it’s ever going to feed theirs.”
To learn more about Hellwig Farm, visit them on Facebook at: facebook.com/HellwigFarmMarket. And visit the Farm Market at 8215 Worthington Road in Alexandria, Ohio.
Two years ago, when I was a high school senior on the edge of graduation, I was faced with the unavoidable question of what I was going to do next. Up until that time, I told myself I would be like so many of my classmates and go off to college, get a degree. But when the time came to pick my destination of higher education, the last place I wanted to go was back into the classroom.
With college on hold, I searched my heart to examine what exactly it was that made me feel alive—what was it that I loved? The answer was so simple that I didn’t see it right away. After school one day, I stood in the middle of a field bordering a farm. I watched as insects crawled on plants nearby and heard the many songs of birds. The grass moved in the wind and the colors of the setting sun made everything in my view glow a golden yellow. I could feel what was around me and felt irreplaceably peaceful. In that moment my intuition was awakened and I knew that wherever I was headed, I wanted to be outside.
The urge to surround myself with nature originated from my childhood days. I spent them adventuring the four acres of land where my family and I lived, nestled off of a country road in the woods. There I was free to run barefoot in the tall summer grass, climb to the tops of oak trees, take my Barbies for a trip to the creek and stay up late to roast marshmallows over a bonfire.
But it wasn’t all play. Ever since I can recall, my mother has always kept flowerbeds and a vegetable garden. She would round up my sisters and me every Saturday morning, putting us to work extracting the many weeds that seemed to ceaselessly multiply before our eyes. I would start out strong, pulling the plants my mom designated as a “weed,” and then a half hour later my effort would diminish as I asked over and over again, “Can I go play now?”
Although as a kid I viewed tending the flowers and garden as a chore, as an adult the chore has become a most beloved hobby. When I stood in that field as a soon-to-be graduate, no longer a child running free in the country, my destiny presented itself. Not only did I love being immersed in nature, but I adopted my mother’s passion for tending to plants. For the first time, I realized I was meant to be a farmer.
That revelation gave me my missing coordinate, and I started to search out farms to work on. One e-mail and an interview later, I found myself inside of a large hoop house pulling weeds from rows of huge, luscious lettuce. The farm had three of these amazing structures where the majority of produce was grown, containing within its plastic walls a plethora of salad greens and herbs.
I was able to get my first hands-on experience working on a farm, and not just any farm, an organic one. Before my pursuit began, I didn’t understand what made organically grown food so different from every other food at the grocery store. Mindy and Phil, the two farmers who took me under their wing, showed me just how big of a difference choosing organic made. I learned terms such as a genetically modified organism (GMO), familiarized myself with the infamous Monsanto seed company and started reading labels on food to find out just how far it had traveled to reach me.
Organic took on a whole new light. It became a guarantee that the food I bought wasn’t sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, which is not only bad for human consumption but also detrimental to the environment. Also, through buying organically raised meat, I knew that the animals had been treated humanely and not stuffed with hormones or antibiotics. The taste of the organic products was the ultimate characteristic that won my heart. I remember drinking organic milk for the first time and savoring the rich and creamy taste. My mind told me that organic farming was the right way, and my taste did too.
After high school graduation, I went on to work for two other organic farmers and currently do so as well. I just finished my first semester of college studying sustainable agriculture, and want to continue my education with the addition of social therapy. My dream is to do what I love—farming. At the same time, I want to provide others with the opportunity to grow their own food, building life skills through nurturing plants and animals.
Food is a very intimate part of every day, and preserving it for not only this lifetime but those to come is of greatest importance. I choose to fight for an end to food deserts, genetically modified foods, nutrient-stripped lands, the eutrophication of lakes and the ignorance of where food comes from. All of this I can do by being an organic farmer, and by voting through my selections at the grocery store. The road to change comes through doing, and only when we take hold of our lives can we start to make a difference.
Part of the magic of crepes comes from the wide variety of meals that can result from a simple crepe batter. Sweet, savory, breakfast, dinner—they can fill almost any role on a menu. Crepes originated in the northwest region of France, where they rarely had fillings and were used as bread in a manner similar to Indian dosas or Mexican tortillas. These crepes were large and paper-thin, and were usually eaten with a small amount of caster sugar on top. When sweet, the crepe batter is traditionally made with white wheat flour, while savory batter is traditionally made with gluten-free buckwheat flour. Modern crepe fillings range from fruits and creams to meats, sautéed vegetables and cheeses. An elaborate traditional crepe recipe is the famous Crêpe Suzette, in which a sugared crepe is covered in a liquor and flambéed, but don’t be intimidated—crepes can be very easy to make.
Adapted from Alton Brown
I have tried a lot of crepe recipes in search of the perfect crepe! I particularly like this recipe—it is simple to prepare and always turns out great. —TW
Ingredients 2 large eggs ¾ cup milk ½ cup water 1 cup flour 3 tablespoons melted butter Additional butter for coating the pan
Savory Variation: Add ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs, spinach or sun-dried tomatoes to the egg mixture.
Sweet Variation: Add 2½ tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur to the egg mixture.
In a blender, combine all the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds.
Place the crepe batter in refrigerator for 1 hour. This allows the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking. The batter will keep for up to 48 hours.
Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1 ounce of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to a cutting board. Lay crepe out flat so it can cool. Continue until all batter is gone.
Kitchen Note: After crepes have cooled, you can stack them and store in sealable plastic bags in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to two months. When using frozen crepes, thaw on a rack before gently peeling apart.
Savory Crepe Fillings
The following fillings are some of my favorite ways to make a savory crepe. These work perfectly as a lunch, dinner or elegant first course for a summer dinner party. Crepes can always be accompanied by a nice seasonal salad.
Smoked salmon, green peas, Swiss cheese and tarragon cream
Blend of mushrooms, shallots and Gruyere cheese
Sweet corn, bacon and chive cream
Kitchen Note: To make a creamy filling for 8–10 crepes, take 2 cups of Snowville whipping cream, a handful of herbs you want to use for flavor, and then reduce the mixture to a thicker consistency in a saucepan on the stove for about 20–30 minutes. Cool the mixture slightly. Spoon some onto your crepe, insert your filling and sprinkle with your favorite cheese. It is a good strategy to bake the crepe for a few minutes at the end to melt the cheese and warm everything up.
Brown Sugar Bourbon Peach Crepes
- By Tricia Wheeler Serves 6–8
Prepare the sweet version of the crepe batter for this recipe.
Ingredients for filling: 2–3 cups fresh peaches, or frozen peaches (we love Branstool Peaches)* 3 tablespoons bourbon 3 tablespoons brown sugar 1 cup Snowville whipping cream 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Make crepes ahead. You can refrigerate the batter until ready to use. Place a piece of parchment between each crepe.
Combine peaches, bourbon and brown sugar in a saucepan. Cook over low to medium heat until soft. You might need to add a little water to fresh peaches; frozen peaches do not need to be defrosted before cooking.
Whip cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peak stage.
Assemble crepes with cream and peaches inside and then roll up. Garnish with a little more cream and some mint.
Kitchen Note: Freeze fresh Branstool peaches when they are in season and then enjoy them throughout the year. Peaches freeze perfectly. Clean them, cut them into chunks with the skin on, place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and let them freeze. Once frozen, place peaches in freezer-safe bag or container. When drizzly December arrives, you will be happy!