Monday, July 25, 2016

In the Swim of Things: The Natatorium

By Joy Neighbors
Dateline: July 25, 1898

The “great bath” can be traced back to 2600 BC and the Egyptians who had pools built for relaxing in. The ancient Greeks and Romans also enjoyed soaking in man-made pools; so much so, their children were taught to swim as part of their school education. Pools were a sign of status and were used not only for swimming and bathing, but also for social and health-related reasons. A heated pool built in First Century BC for Gaius Maecenas (one of the first patrons of the arts) supposedly featured waterfalls, a garden, villas, terraces and a library.

In the early 19th century, competitive swimming was introduced in Britain and indoor pools became popular. The modern Olympics began in 1896 and swimming races were among the events held. That’s when an interest in swimming pools began to develop in the U.S.

West Baden Springs Hotel
In 1898, hotel owner Lee Sinclair had a two-story natatorium built at West Baden Springs Hotel. Sinclair decided to model the hotel after European-style resorts which touted their restorative mineral spas. Sinclair capitalized on his idea by creating a place guests could come to “take the waters” in comfort while enjoying all the latest amenities.

Original Natatorium
The grand opening for the two-story indoor swimming pool was held on July 25, 1898. Sinclair knew how to throw a party and the opening featured exhibition diving, trapeze performers and a log-rolling contest. A tour of the facility revealed that spectators could view the swimming from both floors while the first floor also housed guest dressing rooms.

Natatorium, circa 2016
Today, the natatorium has been restored to a state-of-the-art facility. It is still home to the indoor pool and now houses a luxurious spa offering 12 treatment rooms that provide a diverse menu of revitalizing options. The complex also features a full service salon and health club.

Lee Sinclair would be proud of this stunning facility that still makes its home in what was once the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Step Back In Time With Twilight Tours

By Joy Neighbors

Dr. Hassenmiller Talks With Group
Cowboy Tom Mix
It isn’t every day you get to meet some well-known folks from the past, but that opportunity is available another three times this year when Indiana Landmarks offers Twilight Tours at the West Baden Springs Hotel on select summer Saturday evenings.

On this tour, you’ll interact with some of the most prominent, wealthy and infamous guests who stayed at the National Historic Landmark hotel during the early 20th century. 

Golf Great Walter Hagen
The Beveridge Family
Costumed interpreters portray such famous people such as American lawyer Clarence Darrow, Walter Hagen, the first professional U.S. golfer, Indiana State Senator Albert Beveridge and his family, silver screen cowboy star Tom Mix, and “the unsinkable Molly Brown,” who was at the hotel recuperating from her harrowing experiences during the sinking of the Titanic. Learn about the “healing waters” that made French Lick and West Baden Springs Hotels so famous, and meet some of the colorful people who came here for more than just “taking the waters.”

WW1 Nurse Beetle and Colonel Bliss
Tour Guide and Group
These well-dressed “guests” will share fascinating tidbits and personal tales during the 75-minute evening tour. The remaining dates for Twilight Tours are July 23, August 13 and September 17. Tours begin at 7 pm at the Indiana Landmark’s shop in the hotel. Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for Indiana Landmarks members and $10 for children, 13 and under. Reservations may be made online at or by calling (866) 571-8687.
Under the Dome
Plan for a delightful experience and come away with the feeling that, just for the evening, you stepped back into the hey-day of one of America’s premier hotels and brushed shoulders with some real characters under the "8th Wonder of the World" - West Baden Springs Hotel.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Living Roots EcoVillage

By Joy Neighbors

(A blog post last week reported how French Lick Resort works with producers in the community to offer locally sourced foods at several resort restaurants. Today, we visit one of those local suppliers, Living Roots EcoVillage.)

Michael Hicks of Living Roots EcoVillage
Michael Hicks started Living Roots EcoVillage almost two years ago. Before this venture, he sold produce near Bedford for 12 years. Nature has always played a huge role in Hicks’s life; he has served on the Board of Directors for the Local Growers Guild, the Board of Directors for Lost River Community Coop, and the Bloomington Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. Today, he is the EcoVillage farm leader and manages the CSA.

Washing Beets
Living Roots is a farm co-operative similar to a
homeowners association. Residents live off the beaten path on a quiet country road between French Lick and Patoka Lake. The EcoVillage uses organic farming methods but is not “certified organic.” “We practice holistic farming,” Hicks explained “This is a way of growing food without chemicals
EcoVillage Garden
or sprays; using smart planting and people-power as a way
to control weeds and harvest crops. We use straw for mulching around our vegetables because it helps keep weeds down and retains moisture for the plans. We grow our food this way not just for the flavor but to keep people healthy.”

Garlic Hung to Dry
Natural Mulch for Basil Plants
The farm is comprised of 75 acres that currently grows more than 350 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit. Produce includes corn, eggplant, squash, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, garlic, onions, herbs, green beans and melons. All of the food is grown without chemicals by utilizing sustainable farming methods, permaculture, natural mulching, water catchments and raised beds. The farm is also home to 16 people, 50 chickens, several grass-fed cows and three Heritage hogs.

French Lick Resort is a major purchaser of produce including salad mix, head lettuce, leafy greens like kale, chard and cabbage. According to Hicks, “The resort uses our peppers so we offer quite a mix. Heirloom tomatoes are popular so we have more than 2,000 plants, and over 2 miles of potatoes. Everything we sell the resort is fresh, seasonal and grown right here.”

Zucchini, Yellow, Striped and Pattypan Squash
Each May through December the EcoVillage offers a Community Supported Ag (CSA) program. “People pay in advance for the weekly basket of produce they receive for 32 weeks (May – December), and everything is grown on the farm,” Hicks said. We currently have 105 families involved; we are the biggest CSA in the state and one of the highest producing in Indiana.”

Besides healthy, chemically-free foods, Living Roots also offers opportunities for the community to come out and visit. “We offer a weekly class in yoga and massage therapy, and each spring we have a permaculture workshop,” Hicks said. There’s also a monthly potluck for those who would like to learn more about the EcoVillage and sustainable farming. The event is held the third Sunday of the month at the EcoVillage Community Center. A tour of the farm is offered before the sit-down meal. Visitors are asked to call (812) 727-5444 or email if planning to attend.

Living Roots EcoVillage
So what are Michael's plans for the future? “I’d love to see several other diversified businesses set up here under the EcoVillage umbrella,” Hicks replied. The EcoVillage provides a natural focus to farming and living. Maybe we’ll have a mushroom farmer or cheesemaker living here. People own their land separately but we all work together because that’s what it’s all about – working together for the benefit of all.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

5 Ways to Beat the Heat at French Lick Resort

French Lick Resort is packed with ways to stay cool this summer. See how many of these "cool" activities you can check out during your stay!

1. Not 1, not 2, but 4 pools!
With an indoor pool, outdoor pool, and hot tub at both French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs Hotels, there is plenty of space to lay out your bea
ch towels and splash around. And the pools are located next to each other, making for an easy move if you find yourself catching a few too many rays. Of course it wouldn’t be a complete experience without a snack nearby. Spring No. 8 Deli is just outside the French Lick Springs Hotel pool complex for a refreshing drink or quick bite. Need sunscreen or some shades? French Lick Mercantile Co. has you covered. The pools are perfect for spending a few hours or a whole day lounging around, especially when being active is the last thing on your mind.

2. Scoops Ice Cream
A resort favorite, Scoops has been keeping guests happy for many a summer. With delicious flavors like chocolate, French vanilla, mint chocolate chip and cookies and cream, there’s sure to be a taste to satisfy every sweet tooth. Stay cool with a scoop (or two)! You can get all the ice cream your heart desires at The Mercantile at the French Lick Springs Hotel and Xanadu at the West Baden Springs Hotel. Take your ice cream outside and "rock" your worries away on the veranda at both hotels. 

3. Drinks at Power Plant Bar & Grill
The large electrical switchboard that covers the wall of this eatery is no longer giving off heat, but the bar is filled with refreshing drinks. The pub is named for the switchboard that used to supply electricity for the French Lick Springs Hotel. Offering a full array of food and delicious cool drinks. On a hot summer day, try the mojito or a cool old fashioned.

4. Kidsfest Programming
If you're taking your summer vacation with the kiddos, be sure to take some time to check out Kidsfest--French Lick Resort's very own hangout for kids. Whether it's painting, Wii games or cooking or one of our "Around the World" summer-themed activities, there is something to do all the time in our Kidsfest lodge. Helpful tip: the Kidsfest lodge is also where you rent bikes and surrey carts!

5. Bowling and Arcade
You don't have to leave the resort to go bowling with your family! Connected to the bowling alley is the arcade and Pluto's Pizzeria--all open until late night. Be sure to play Cosmic Bowling on Wednesday nights 5pm-11pm!

Be sure to share how you’re staying cool at the resort this summer with us on social media. Enter your best summer photo around the resort with #FLRsummer for a chance to win an overnight stay at the French Lick Springs Hotel. Follow us on Instagram @frenchlickresort

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Enjoy Locally Sourced Foods at French Lick Resort

By Joy Neighbors

Living Roots EcoVillage
The “local food movement” goes by several names: “locally sourced,” “locally sustainable foods,” “farm to table,” “farm to fork,” and “eat your zip code” are just a few. The movement is a way to connect food producers with consumers in the same area. These “locavores” have an avid interest in foods that are grown or produced locally. Farmers markets are very popular with foodies looking for ways to support local farmers while also eating foods that are of a higher quality, safer, (due to the lack of chemicals and pesticides), more affordable and better tasting.

At French Lick Resort, we promote state, regional and yes, local foods; even wines and beers. Several resort restaurants proudly serve produce, meats and cheeses that are locally grown.

At West Baden Springs Hotel, Sinclair’s Restaurant and Café at Sinclair’s each offers delectable dishes crafted from locally sourced foods. According to Executive Chef Ethan Smith, “We have a Sinclair’s menu which offers the staples – steak and potatoes, but we also have a menu that is flexible and I can change it up every week or two, depending on what is currently available locally. We use Capriole Farms in Greenville, Indiana for regional chèvre (goat) cheeses, Kenny’s Farmhouse in Barren County, Kentucky for artisanal cheeses, and Viking Lamb Meats in Morristown, Indiana (which have no growth stimulants or added hormones), along with duck from Maple Leaf Farms in Milford, Indiana.

Smith goes on to explain, "We also make our own in-house mozzarella and ricotta cheeses using Prairie Farms, an Indiana dairy. And we get most of our locally sourced produce from Living Roots (EcoVillage) of Orange County.” There is also a sidebar mention in the menu when a meal includes locally sourced items so the guests know.”

1875 Restaurant Manager Tom O'Connor
Tom O’Connor, restaurant manager of 1875: The Steakhouse noted that area foods are also highlighted on his menus. “Many daily specials and center of the plate entrees are created from local foods,” O'Conner said. “Flex menus are often our main entrée – our center of the plate specials. Local foods are also offered as appetizers and salads.” According to O’Connor, “Summer’s a great time for local eggplant, zucchini, onions, garlic and a variety of potatoes – all are in constant supply. And by purchasing from Living Roots (EcoVillage), it allows 1875 to serve chemically-free unprocessed food. Locally grown foods help us develop our flavor profiles and can make for a more exciting culinary experience for our guests,” O’Connor added.

Woodford Reserve Barrels on 1875 Patio
Besides Living Roots EcoVillage, 1875: The Steakhouse offers locally sourced beef from Fischer Farms in Jasper, handcrafted slow cured and smoked meats from Smoking Goose in Indianapolis and cheeses from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Kentucky. What about regional wines and beers? “Yes, I use Huber Winery’s Starlight Distillery Brandy that they distill themselves,” O’Connor said. “And Woodford Reserve Bourbon crafts a barrel specifically to our specifications, which we serve to our guests. We also keep the barrels; they are on our patio.”

David Lee Burns, Chef de' Cuisine, French Lick Springs Hotel
David Lee Burns has a full plate to manage as Chef de’ Cuisine of French Lick Springs Hotel, which includes The Grand Colonnade Restaurant, Power Plant Bar & Grill, in-room dining and the employee dining room. Burns said he uses a variety of locally grown produce from Living Roots (EcoVillage) in his dishes. “They supply me with squash, zucchini and mixed greens including Swiss chard, collards and kale. I have an energetic kitchen staff that loves to learn and they will work with the produce we get to develop a recipe from scratch. To be creative with a product, you have to be willing to vary up the recipes for the best variety. We’re getting ready now to introduce an antipasto platter into the resort community that will touch several (food) areas, even the bakery where we’ll take focaccia bread and make it into a flat bread.”

The Grand Colonnade Restaurant
Chef Burns also offers guests a chance to taste Indiana-crafted beers. “I like to introduce guests to regional and state breweries and maybe turn them on to something new. More and more guests are looking for something different (on the menu.) Food can have more flavor – more heat, it just can’t be burn-your- mouth hot. That’s why we offer more Midwestern-style cooking. My goal is that you leave here happy and full.” Burns smiles and nods, “Ready to take a nap, you’re so full.”

Would these resort chefs and food managers like to grow a larger spot on their menus for locally sourced foods? Each one answered with a resounding “Yes!”

Sinclair's Restaurant
Sinclair’s executive chef Ethan Smith replied, “I would love to go bigger with it, but with Indiana’s shorter growing season it does make it difficult to go local all the time. There are times we simply have to blend. I love to use seasonal foods and to make use of them out of season in special sauces and jellies. I think guests appreciate finding local foods on the menu. We’ve had them ask where they can get something because they really like it.”

1875: The Steakhouse
According to 1875 manager, Tom O’Connor, “We want to match our guests interest and have something exciting for them to try. For Indiana’s Bicentennial, we are featuring foods that are historical to our state – that would have been eaten 200 years ago here – bison dishes, Indian harvest grains. Our guests are always looking for more local foods on the menu.”

Power Plant Bar & Grill
Chef de’ Cuisine of French Lick Springs Hotel, David Burns said, “I would like to
see (locally sourced food) take a more prominent role. We take pride in what we produce here (in the Hoosier State.) Kentucky is very local-focused with their Kentucky Proud program and I’d like to see Indiana do the same.” 

By utilizing foods that are locally produced and grown, French Lick Resort continues to provide guests with a higher quality, more flavorful dining experience while encouraging more more sustainable agriculture in the community; a true "win-win" for everyone.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Life of Lillian Sinclair

By Joy Neighbors
Dateline: July 8, 1875

Lillian Sinclair
She lived a privileged life as the only child of Lee W. and Caroline Precise Sinclair. Lillian Sinclair was born on Thursday, July 8, 1875 in Salem, Indiana. Her parents were wealthy; her father had owned a woolen factory in Salem, and served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives before purchasing the West Baden Hotel in 1888. Sinclair changed the hotel’s name to West Baden Springs and immediately began to capitalize on the mineral waters he touted as having medicinal powers – a cure for multiple ailments. He also turned the hotel into an elegant retreat with each room heated by steam and lighted with electricity. Life was good for Lillian, a child of wealth and privilege.

Then in 1901, the hotel caught fire and burned to the ground along with several other buildings. Sinclair was devastated; he felt that he was too old to begin again and was ready to throw in the towel. But Lillian rallied her father, convincing him that this was his opportunity to build the hotel he had always wanted.

Construction of West Baden Springs Hotel
Sinclair began to share Lillian’s enthusiasm and decided to build a circular hotel topped with the largest dome in the world. And he wanted it completed within one year of the anniversary of the fire. Lillian supported him in his dream and enjoyed the fact that the hotel became known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” In fact, the hotel flourished and “the movers and shakers” of the early 20th century flocked to the resort to partake of the waters and enjoy the amenities.

Charles Rexford, Caroline Sinclair, Lillian Rexford & Lee Sinclair
On October 5, 1911, Lillian married Charles Barton Rexford. For the next five years, life was good for Lillian and Charles. Then on September 7, 1916, Lillian’s beloved father died. She and her mother were grief-stricken as more than 1,500 people attended Lee Sinclair’s funeral, held in the atrium of his beloved hotel.

Rookwood Fireplace in Atrium
Lillian and her husband inherited the hotel, and she was determined to continue the modest improvements her father had begun in 1913. She and Charles decided to make the renovations more elaborate and based their ideas on creating a Roman influence throughout the hotel and grounds. The four numbered springs were named after Roman gods and goddesses, more than 12-million terrazzo tiles were installed on the atrium floor by Italian craftsmen, 24 six-story columns were placed in the atrium and covered with canvas painted to resemble marble, and the huge fireplace in the atrium was resurfaced by the famous Rookwood Pottery from Cincinnati. It now depicted a German forest with the hotel in the background and Sprudel keeping watch on guests.

WW1 Army Nurses at West Baden Hotel
Restorations became even more extensive and took two years to complete. By 1918, the U.S. had entered World War One. In the patriotic spirit of the day, Lillian offered the hotel to the U.S. government to be used as an Army hospital for wounded American soldiers. She apparently was not aware that Charles had taken out a $500,000 loan to assist with remodeling costs. Without an income, the hotel, and the Rexford’s, slid closer to financial ruin. After she discovered the loan, Lillian’s marriage fell apart.

Ed Ballard
In 1918, Lillian met Lieutenant Harold Cooper, a wounded soldier recuperating at the hotel/hospital and fell in love. She divorced Rexford in 1922 and married Cooper in 1923. That same year, she sold the hotel to Ed Ballard, who had made the original loan to Charles Rexford. Lillian could not pay off the loan, so the hotel sold to Ballard for $500,000 in cash and $500,000 in forgiveness of the original loan.

Once the sale was final, Lillian and Harold moved to California to begin their lives over. The Coopers did not have children and Lillian spent the next 30 years living with Cooper in the Golden State.

Lillian died on August 16, 1949 in Santa Monica, California. Her body was returned to Salem, Indiana to be placed in the Sinclair family mausoleum in Crown Hill Cemetery. She was 74 years old.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Christen Angermeier- Soon to Be Sommelier at 1875: The Steakhouse

By Joy Neighbors

July is National Culinary Arts Month and French Lick Resort has two fine dining restaurants that continue to impress and garner awards year after year.

At West Baden Springs Hotel, Sinclair’s Restaurant offers European excellence with a sophisticated menu and wine list. Locally grown foods are trendy right now and according to Sinclair’s executive chef Ethan Smith, “Sinclair’s offers a flexible menu to take advantage of seasonal offerings.”

French Lick Springs Hotel has 1875: The Steakhouse – one of the best fine dining establishments in the state. Restaurant manager Tom O’Connor said that "guests are always looking for an exciting culinary experience.” And 1875: The Steakhouse does not disappoint. In fact, it will have its own in-house certified sommelier later this year.

1875 Manager Christen Angermeier
The restaurant’s Food and Beverage Manager Christen Angermeier has already passed her first certification and is on her way to becoming a professional certified sommelier (wine steward), a position on par with an executive chef. A sommelier has extensive knowledge about wines and wine service, wine regions and understands how to pair wines with food.

Angermeier began in the culinary world as a student at Indiana University when she worked as a server at a local restaurant. She enjoyed the industry and decided to go to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. She then set her sights on management and started working in fine dining in Indianapolis. That’s where she discovered the world of wine. Angermeier said, “I began taking wine classes at I.U.P.U.I. (Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis) and fell in love with the wine world.”

Having just passed the first level of exams, Angermeier's goal is to become a certified sommelier by autumn. This status will greatly enhance her credentials in the wine and food industry. She hopes to bring a larger variety of wines to the 1875 wine list and lay some building blocks for the staff to learn more about wine. “I’d love to do some staff training; to help them understand more about the wines we serve and how to talk about those wines to our guests,” Angermeier said. “It means more when you can enhance someone’s dining experience by suggesting a wine that will pair well with their food.”

Asked what her favorite wine is, Angermeier replied, “I always love a good Riesling.” Does she have a “most memorable” Riesling? Indeed, she does. “The one that started it all for me was Joh. Jos Prüm Riesling Auslese – that’s the one that began my love affair with wine. I still remember it!”

Another part of a sommelier’s job is to recommend wine options to guests that fit their taste preferences and budget. When asked for a good red wine under $20, Angermeier suggested a Vietti Barbera. As for an approachable white wine that pairs well with summer foods, Angermeier smiled and nodded, “A Riesling, of course.”