This weekend I joined a friend for a road trip to West Baden for the premiere of the sixth season of Downton Abbey. To be honest, I have not seen every Downton episode. I do not watch much tv, but I remember loving seasons one and two when they covered World War I. As a History major, I was hooked. So, I packed up some festive attire and we hit the road. First, we stopped at the JCrew outlet, which was 70% off and trouble. After I had successfully purchased every plaid and gingham item in the crewcuts kids department, we were on our way!
My festive attire! The JCrew blazer is ten years old – I am wearing it in my college ID photo. Talk about a good investment!
I had never been to West Baden and it is breathtaking. Amazing to think that this incredible place is only a short drive from Indy. Our Downton under the Dome weekend began with tea, scones, pastries, and tea sandwiches with the other Downton ladies. It was a fun group and a lot of people dressed up in 1920’s attire. I sat next to a couple that had just celebrated their 44th anniversary (like my parents) and he was in the Army at the same time as my dad. Another group of ladies were from Bloomington and they were hilarious. There was an elderly man at our table and it made me miss my grandfather. If you are lucky enough to still have grandparents, I hope you show them some love over the holidays!
I ate at least half the platter of the little rye bread rounds with cream cheese, lox, and a dollop of caviar (FANCY!). They also had chicken salad on wheat (pretty good) and cucumber on white. The scones were good – perfectly cooked with an egg wash, but I would have done some lemon zest, but that is just my humble opinion. They had about a dozen hot teas to choose from and our table sampled cinnamon, white pear, and darjeeling.
Next we went on a tour of West Baden with a tour guide from Indiana Landmarks. This was my favorite part of the weekend. I had researched ahead of time, but I learned a lot from our guide.
West Baden Springs Hotel is part of the French Lick Resort. Salt Licks and minerals were discovered in the late 1770s, hence the name French Lick. In 1832, the first French Lick hotel was constructed and the area became popular as a mineral springs resort. In 1852, a competing hotel, West Baden opened and was named after Wiesbaden (the German city known for their mineral springs).
In the late 1800s, guests arrived from across the country on various railroads. The tour guide didn’t mention this fun fact, but my googling informs me that there was once a baseball diamond on the grounds that was used for spring training for the Reds, White Sox, Cubs, and the Pirates.
The hotel burned down in 1901, so the owner declared that the new hotel would be fireproof and would have the world’s largest dome. He also promised that the dome would be completed before the first anniversary of the fire, so a 500 man crew worked six days a week in 10-hour shifts for 270 days, at a total cost of $414,000.
The new dome opened in 1902 and featured concerts, movies, bowling, and more. There was a swimming pool, a covered bicycle track, horseback riding, baseball, and hiking trails. There are about 500 rooms and six floors with the guest rooms built in two circles around the atrium on the second, third, fourth, and fifth floors.
In 1923, the hotel was sold to another owner for $1 million. The stock market crash in 1929, which led to the hotel’s closure in 1932. In 1934, the hotel was sold to the Jesuits for one dollar. “The seminary, known as West Baden College, operated until 1964 when declining enrollment led the Jesuits to close the facility. A Michigan couple purchased the property in 1966 and donated it to Northwood Institute, a private college, which operated in West Baden until 1983.”
“In 1974 West Baden was listed as a National Historic Landmark, but the elements took their toll on the neglected hotel and it was closed to the public in 1989 for safety reasons. In January 1991 a buildup of ice and water on the roof and in drainpipes caused the collapse of a portion of the exterior wall. In 1992 Indiana Landmarks spent $140,000 to stabilize the hotel, matching a $70,000 contribution from an anonymous donor.”
The Cook Group, which is a medical device manufacturing company in Indiana, offered to preserve French Lick and West Baden. After million dollar renovations, both hotels re-opened in 2006. Consider this your short history lesson – I could read about it all day.
That is plaster and horse hair up in that dome, kids!
The only room that has never changed: the barbershop
Cookies = a road trip must
Next we went to dinner at Sinclair’s, which is the restaurant at West Baden. It was pricey, but good. I chose the vegetable napoleon for $28 and my friend got the trout with risotto stuffed in a sweet potato. I like risotto and sweet potatoes, but it seemed like an odd combination to me. A little carb heavy. My napoleon reminded me of my favorite portabello sandwich at Bru Burger, minus the bread. We ended the meal with complimentary chocolate peppermint truffles. After dinner, we put on our Downton attire for the premiere party. I went with purple silk party pants (Talbot’s) and a black lace top (Ann Taylor) and pearls (JCrew). It was as 1920’s as I get. The episode was great and I had forgotten how funny and well written the show is – fans are in for a treat when it airs in January on PBS.
What $28 of mushrooms look like – that piece of tofu on the top was tossed to the side.
Attempting my usual ‘hey, capture me jumping like an idiot’ photo. Wine and a rather large tree platform did not help.
Hope y’all had a fabulous weekend!