Digging Deep for More Pieces of West Baden History

The more we dig below the surface, the more relics we bump into.

First we came across this last month from the old Mile Lick Inn property, which dates back to 1855 and is the precursor to what is now West Baden Springs Hotel.

Just this morning, we unearthed another piece of our history. A fairly immense piece, in fact.

It’s the original headstone from the Apollo Spring in the West Baden gardens. For now, it’s missing the last “O” in Apollo. We expect it’ll turn up with a little more digging during this construction project, as we’re renovating the area surrounding the hotel’s old Billiards and Bowling Pavilion which will soon become a reception hall.

But the rest of Apollo’s 6-foot long, 2-foot thick limestone slab is still remarkably intact, considering this mineral water spring was probably last used about 75 years ago before the hotel closed to guests during the Great Depression.

Going below the surface into what was once the entryway to the Apollo Spring. 

Back when the springs were functional in the early 1900s, guests walked beneath the Apollo headstone to access West Baden’s famed Sprudel Water, as French Lick Resort historian Jeff Lane explains.  

“The Apollo Spring had railings between the columns because it was an open pit. Originally to get to the spring where the water came up, a guest would need to go down several steps under that structure and the basin at the bottom, which is where the water came up like all springs,” Jeff explains. “The water would have been there for guest to just help themselves. There would have been a common dipper, or maybe a couple, that were used so people could have just gotten a sip of water from Apollo.”

When the hotel originally closed in the 1930s and the building became a Jesuit seminary, the Jesuits capped and filled in the springs with concrete. Though the gazebo portion remained, the “Apollo” headstone got taken down and flipped over. It sat underground, with the letter side facing down, until being excavated today.

That’s not all that we dug up.

A few paces down from the Apollo Spring, we uncovered part of the old Sprudel Spring. Back when it was operational, this spring likely extended 15-20 feet below ground. Sprudel was the strongest of West Baden’s four springs, pumping out 12 gallons of mineral water per minute and 2,000 barrels of water per day — with much of the eponymously named Sprudel Water bottled commercially and sold nationwide.

This dug-up area reveals a subterranean part of the octagonal-shaped Sprudel Spring. Check out the building’s former lavish interior, where guests once lined up behind a long soda bar to be served the miracle mineral water by attendants.
The exterior and interior of the former Sprudel Spring, also known as Spring No. 7.

Also, the bricks you see below the surface certainly weren’t cheap. They’re Tiffany bricks, hand-molded with a glazed white surface and the Tiffany insignia on the back of each one. (With Tiffany’s signature backward “N,” which distinguished it from the knock-offs.) Each brick cost about $100 in those times — think about the exorbitant cost that would equate to today — which is yet another illustration of how the Sinclair family spared no expense in making the hotel among the world’s elite.

This area of the West Baden gardens not only featured the mineral springs back in the day but also buildings like an opera hall, doctor’s office and sanitarium. Who knows what we’re likely to dig up next? In the meantime, we’ll still be on the lookout for Apollo’s missing “O.”


Post a Comment