Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Traveling Through History at French Lick West Baden Museum



French Lick West Baden Museum

The French Lick West Baden Museum is a perfect place to start a trip to French Lick, Indiana. The museum does a fabulous job unfolding area history beginning with when buffalo once migrated through stopping for a lick of minerals left behind by evaporating spring water. French Lick started becoming famous for this mineral water in the 1840's when Dr. Bowles built French Lick Springs Hotel in 1845 as an escape where people could heal from the therapeutic waters. An interesting resident, Dr. Bowles was a physician and a minister, served in Mexican-American War and was a Copperhead during the Civil War. Some of the many interesting things we learned at the museum!



Dr. Bowles Pistol  at French Lick West Baden Museum
Dr. Bowles Pistol 

Throughout the museum, we found artifacts from when both French Lick and West Baden's mineral water was bottled.

Resort artifacts in French lick, Indiana
Resort artifacts 
Each mineral spring had its own "protector." French Lick had Pluto, a Roman god of the underworld, and West Baden had Sprudel, a gnomish character. The Pluto bottling company would survive longer than Sprudel. The mineral water bottling days are gone but Pluto still makes bottles and bottles other chemicals.

Pluto protecting one of French Lick's famous mineral springs.
Pluto protecting one of French Lick's famous mineral springs.

Over all, the museum is not huge but the interesting tidbits throughout certainly keep you fascinated and enjoying exhibits. For example, we were thoroughly surprised to learn that tomato juice was invented at the French Lick Springs Hotel!


Tomato juice invented at French Lick Springs Hotel!
Tomato juice invented at French Lick Springs Hotel!
We learned about various owners of the French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel. I enjoyed particularly reading about Lee Sinclair. One of his changes to the West Baden Springs Hotel was to add a double-level track with horse racing on the lower track and strolling or bicycling on the upper track. The museum has a nice section where you can flip through different parts of history and read sections you are interested in. I kind of liked this approach!


The casino history of the area is pretty interesting. While there is a casino in French Lick today, it is hard to imagine the number of casinos that were once in the area alongside private games in residences. Additionally, there are rumors that Capone once visited the casinos of French Lick.


There is also an excellent exhibit about an African American church that the area is working on restoring. The artifacts were incredible including a Bible from the church.


Additionally, there is a section on native son Larry Bird! This was a great opportunity to teach our daughter about one of the sports greats of our childhood.


The last exhibit in the museum wows and takes quite awhile to go through. Winter home of the  Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus from 1915-1924, the area is now home to the World's Largest Circus Diorama depicting the circus. Every detail of the circus is represented in the diorama beginning with the circus train.

Trains in the circus diorama at French Lick West Baden Museum

The animal cars:

The circus animal cars in the circus diorama in French Lick


The detail is awe inspiring!

Visiting the circus diorama at French Lick West Baden Museum

A peek inside the side shows:

The side show tent in the circus diorama at French Lick West Baden Museum

Inside the Big Top:

The Big Top in the circus diorama at French Lick West Baden Museum

As you can see, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus is a must see. Spend some time taking in all of the different scenes of the traveling circus! I was so amazed not only by the diorama itself but also the thought of the enormity of the circus descending on the area each year.

The French Lick West Baden Museum is truly a gem. When visiting the area, be sure to carve a little time to learn the fascinating history of the area.

**Thank you to the French Lick West Baden Museum for accommodating our visit. ALso, thank you to French Lick Resort for hosting our visit. No other compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.


French Lick West Baden Museum French Lick Indiana

2 comments:

  1. I found the French Lick West Baden Museum fascinating. The area has such a colorful history!

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    1. The size is deceiving! I cannot believe how much they packed in a small space -- everything so interesting!

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