2011 Annual Meeting is held in Southern Indiana and French Lick Springs Resort
By Eileene Woods
This Annual Meeting began with our departure from the Chicago area with many of our members aboard the Big Green Bus, “Cavallo” with a big green horse painted on the sides, one of the most distinctive of buses. In a group of buses, it would always stand out! Some other members came by air, others drove
In my years of living in Chicago, I have always enjoyed, or perhaps I should say endured Indiana as a state to go through on the way to Florida or points south. I must say that after this trip through Southern Indiana, I have a whole new appreciation for the beauty of the state.
On September 26, we arrived first in the quaint little town of Nashville for a narrated trolley tour. When we told our trolley guide we had a hard time hearing because of the wind, she readily said, “Let’s go again”. The town is home to many artists and craftsmen. There is also the John Dillinger museum here. The town is filled with Turn-of-the-century style homes, mostly Victorian-type architecture. We had lunch in a restaurant in one of these houses.
We continued on to French Lick Springs and Hotel with its nine restaurants and a Casino. The casino takes the place of the “Cure” for amusement. They give you $5.00 at check-in, knowing they will get it all back and more!! I was not prepared for the vastness of this beautiful resort hotel, first built in the early part of the century and restored in recent years.
We had a tour of the West Baden Hotel, which is even more beautiful than French Lick. The owner, Col. Lee Sinclair set the terms for the architects. It really took miracles to finish it in 8 ½ months for $414,000 with a clause of $100 per day penalty if the construction took more than 200 working days. The West Baden dome is larger than St. Peter's in Rome. It was regarded as the 8th wonder of the world. It remained the world’s largest self-supporting dome until the completion of the Astrodome in Houston.
It reminded me of that saying of Albert Einstein---“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
During Prohibition both hotels, which are only about a mile apart, provided opportunities for the “Mafia” to get liquor from Kentucky into Illinois, thus, creating great riches for themselves. People came for the curative Spring Waters, to drink and to bathe. The water was later found to contain lithium, which is a controlled substance. The springs have since been covered over and do not exist any more. The renovations have been done with private funds. The beautiful golf course is an important part of the recreational facilities.
New Harmony, a planned community on the Wabash River, was a Utopian community begun in 1804 which attracted religious groups from Europe, especially a group of German Lutheran Separatists called “Harmonists.” Scientists and scholars who were seeking equality in communal living moved to the village in 1824. They didn’t succeed because there were no “Indians,” all “chiefs” according to our guide.
We had a guided tour, which started at the Athenaeum, a magnificent structure by Richard Meier, who also was the architect of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The modern 21st century building is quite different from the modest homes of the religious groups. In the 1940s Jane Owen, descendant of Robert Owen of the Harmonists, gave funds for the restoration of this Utopian Village. We toured these modest buildings. Every year Golden Rain trees are planted. They have the greatest collection of these trees in the United States.
At the Abbey of St. Meinrad, we had a tour of their magnificent church. St. Meinrad is a Seminary for priests and brothers. This church was inspired by Renaissance churches of Europe, and constructed of stone from local quarries. The Brother who took us on tour was knowledgeable and entertaining. Our member Jim Hill once was a student here. We enjoyed a very nice lunch. Their gift shop had a room where one could order a coffin for a future date!!
Santa Claus, Indiana, is a little town where many people mail their Christmas cards to be stamped “Santa Claus, Indiana” There were lots of Christmas Shops, all decorated, which is probably an all-year-round spectacle. We visited the Oliver Winery, with a tasting of their delicious wines and a tour of the storerooms of barrels. Wine, of course, was for sale.
We continued on our way to spend the night at Spring Mill State Park, which was built by the young men of the CCC Camps (Civilian Conservation Corps) instituted during the 1930s during Franklin Roosevelt term as President, to put the youth of America to work, and improve State and National Parks. The Spring Mill Park was a sharp contrast to the French Lick and West Baden Resorts. We were in the forest in a limestone building with 75 rooms and an indoor/outdoor pool.
In 1865 George Donaldson purchased 181 acres to preserve for its natural beauty-and no other purpose. He traveled the world and brought back all kinds of artifacts, however, there was a fire in his house which destroyed everything. Donaldson died in his native Scotland. He never had a will so the Donaldson Woods Nature Preserve became the property of the state, and the site of Spring Mill Park. The grist mill was owned by Tom Homer powered by the springs that flowed from a hillside cave. The village became known as Spring Mill. The three-story grist mill has been restored.
The Virgil Grissom Memorial (the famous astronaut) is near the visitor’s center in Spring Mill Park. He was from Mitchell, Indiana, and loved the park as a boy; it was a logical place for the memorial.
We had the FIC Meeting after dinner followed by the Small World Fund Auction, which has earned us the funds to help support projects in several countries.
On the last day of our trip we went to Park County to see the covered bridges for which Indiana is very famous. Joe Sturn has served as the official bridge inspector for more than twelve years. About thirty bridges are intact for their yearly festival, which has been held every October since 1957.
We found out one interesting fact about Orange County, as we came through---it is the home of the “Slider “of White Castle fame. They have only recently moved the operation to New Orleans.
We returned to Chicago and so ended another great trip planned by Mary and Ed Spradlin, who left nothing to chance. They had taken the whole trip earlier in the year.