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.”