Hoosier History Live! with Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on 88.7 FM, WICR in Indianapolis.

Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our new listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!


June 12 show

French Lick and West Baden Springs hotels history


French Lick Springs Hotel postcard from 1935.With a heritage that includes mineral waters renowned for their supposed curative powers, an atrium with one of largest free-standing domes anywhere (it was touted as the "Eighth Wonder of the World"), a series of colorful owners and a roster of distinguished guests for more than 100 years, the two lavishly restored hotels in French Lick and West Baden are troves for history lovers.


To explore the rollicking history of the French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels, Nelson will be joined in studio by a gem of a guest: distinguished Hoosier historian Jim Fadely.Jim Fadely, widely regarded as the ultimate expert on flamboyant Tom Taggart, the former Indianapolis mayor who purchased the French Lick hotel in the early 1900s and made it an international showplace.


A descendant of early Indiana pioneers, Jim is the author of Thomas Taggart: Public Servant, Political Boss 1856-1929 (Indiana Historical Society Press) and a top administrator at University High School near Carmel.


Jim and Nelson have rotated the microphone on tours of the historic hotels in Orange County, where illegal gambling flourished for decades and Taggart's masterful promoters touted a sulfur-based water they marketed as Pluto Water. Atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel.At the rival West Baden Springs Hotel, mineral water was marketed as Sprudel Water.


(West Baden was named after Baden Baden, Germany, a centuries-old site of similar mineral water. George Rogers Clark is credited with coining the name for French Lick, perhaps inspired by its salt licks. Even before the first white settlers, Native Americans had contended the mineral baths and waters of the Springs Valley were beneficial.)


Guests at the hotels during their heydays 100 years ago included Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. A self-made multimillionaire, Taggart was an Irish immigrant who, as mayor of Indianapolis, won praise for pushing for developing city parks, according to Jim. After traveling to French Lick on a vacation, Taggart was impressed and bought an existing hotel at the site, where the first inn (known as the French Lick House) had gone up in the 1840s. Then came spectacular success, concurrent with the rise of the rival West Baden Springs.


Book cover, Thomas Taggart.Both hotels in recent years have undergone stunning restorations spearheaded by Bloomington-based historic preservationists Bill and Gayle Cook; Indiana Landmarks Foundation initiated the renovation of West Baden, which had been closed as a hotel since the Great Depression. (During the intervening years, West Baden Springs had served as a Jesuit seminary, then as a branch of Northwood Institute, a college that offered instruction in the culinary arts and other fields.)

Some fun facts:

  • Near the French Lick hotel, Taggart built a hilltop home for his son on the second-highest point in the state of Indiana. According to Jim, he designed the residence, called Mount Airie, to recreate a Taggart home on Hyannis Port, Mass, which pre-dates the Kennedy family's compounds there. (Mount Airie today serves as the clubhouse for the spectacular golf course at French Lick designed by nationally renowned Hoosier Pete Dye.)
  • Tomato juice was invented - or at least marketed for the first time - at the French Lick Springs Hotel in 1917 when, according to folklore, the chef ran out of orange juice. (Regular listeners will recall this was the Hoosier History trivia mystery on our debut show.)
  • The first West Baden hotel burned to the ground. In 1902, owner Lee Sinclair and his daughter Lillian oversaw its lavish resurrection; its vast atrium was the largest unsupported dome in the world until the Astrodome in Houston opened during the mid-1960s.
  • According to Jim, the bipartisan political clout of the hotels' owners enabled gambling operations to flourish in the valley. Taggart was a national power broker in the Democratic Party; Ed Ballard, who succeeded the Sinclairs as West Baden's owner, was an influential Republican.
  • Since its ornate restoration, the French Lick Springs has 25 miles of hallways and the largest spa in the entire Midwest. One pavilion alone, the Pluto Pavilion, has $300,000 worth of gold leaf.


History Mystery question


Painting of girl, by daughter of Thomas Taggart.The family of Irish immigrant-turned-Indianapolis mayor and French Lick Springs Hotel owner Thomas Taggart endured tragedies, just like the Kennedy family. (Both families owned homes in the resort of Hyannis Port, Mass.) The eldest of Tom Taggart's six children, a daughter named Florence, died at age 20 in a tragic yacht accident near New Orleans in 1899. However, one of Taggart's other daughters became a renowned artist. She studied art in New York City and had studios in the Taggart family homes, both in Indianapolis and Hyannis Port. In the 1930s, she also began teaching at what was then called the John Herron Art Institute after earlier serving on its board.


Question: Name the Taggart daughter who became an influential Hoosier artist.

The call-in number for the correct answer is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is two adult and two youth tickets to the NCAA Hall of Champions, courtesy of the ICVA.



Horse-drawn barge in Metamora, Ind.Tucked 65 miles southeast of Indianapolis is the charming town of Metamora, Indiana's only remaining functioning canal town. Our Roadtripper, Chris Gahl of the ICVA, says that when you visit the town, you'll journey through the early 19th-century history of horse-drawn canal boats - which fueled southeastern Indiana's economy until its displacement by the railroad later on in that century.

Metamora is littered with mom-and-pop stores in historic buildings dating back to the early 1800s. A must-stop is for a bag of freshly stone-ground cornmeal, a town treasure. And there are lots of great hikes along the Whitewater River Valley.

You might try spending the night at the Brookville Inn, a quaint B&B constructed in 1900. When in Brookville, be sure to see one of T.C. Steele's homes called "The Heritage" along the Whitewater River. And just down the road is Oldenburg, the Village of Spires. You can't go wrong by heading to Metamora for a slower pace of life. Leave your electronic gadgets at home!


Your friends in Hoosierdom,

Nelson Price, host and creative director

Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101

Chris Gahl, Roadtripper

Richard Sullivan, tech and web director    

Garry Chilluffo, consultant



Lucas OilIndiana Historical Society logo.

The Fadely Trust. A fund of the Indianapolis Foundation.

Henry's Coffee Bistro logo.Story Inn

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support:
Henry's Coffee Bistro on East, The Fadely Trust, Indiana Historical Society, Lucas Oil and Story Inn.


Acknowledgments to Scott Keller Fine Art and Antiques Appraisals, Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Drew Pastorek and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through sponsorships and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn more.


June 19 show

Fishin' across Indiana with Skip Hess

It's fishin' time, and Hoosier History Live! is reeling in a catch as a guest. To offer tips about prime fishing spots across Indiana, share advice about techniques and maybe tell a whopper fish story or two, the "Outdoors" columnist for The Indianapolis Star, veteran journalist Skip Hess, will join Nelson in studio.


With Skip as our guide, we will explore the good, the bad and the unheralded about all things related to fishing, from the best bait to common mistakes by aspiring anglers.


Mountain lion in Greene County, Ind.Seizing the opportunity with his former colleague (Skip and Nelson sat next to each other for several years at the Star; before that, they worked together at the bygone Indianapolis News), we also expect to venture on dry land and talk about the now-confirmed reports of mountain lions in Indiana. You may have read Skip's recent "Outdoors" column (it appears every other Sunday) about sightings around the state of mountain lions now prowling Hoosier trails, decades after they were thought to have vanished from the state.


According to Skip's column, even the Department of Natural Resources is conceding the big cats are out there after a camera installed along a Greene County trail captured some startling photos.


Primarily, though, we will keep Skip focused on fish; you are invited to go with the flow and call in with questions or your own tips.


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