M.P. D17.7 - 7th Subdivision - FL
Today, French Lick, Indiana is better known as the hometown of Indiana basketball legend and NBA Hall Of Farmer Larry Bird. At one time this southern Indiana community was better known for other things. The Monon's 17.7 mile track ended at the very front steps of the French Lick Springs Hotel. This resort, in its heyday was home to all manner of entertainment, including infamous gambling. The Springs was a favorite haunt for horse players who attended the Kentucky Derby. On derby weekend the house tracks would be full of special derby consists. This long tradition of Derby trains lasted until the very end of the Monon. The last derby special ran May 1971 and included one coach and a business car, pulled by C-420 #503.
The Monon/ Southern RR depot in French Lick, August 1932. A very stately looking structure.
September 1950. Monon F3 stands in front of the Springs Hotel on the head of a special train. The present yellow brick hotel dates back to the early 1900's. The original wood structure was destroyed by fire in 1897.
Right: Passenger leave their Pullman Cars for a stay at the Springs Hotel. This is more than likely a Kentucky Derby Train.
Left: Monon company bus outside the Main Entrance of the Springs Hotel. Right: End of the house track in front of the Springs Hotel and Monon Business Car.
Looking north from the French Lick Depot at the yard and Freight House at French Lick. Right: Two legs of the Wye at French Lick.
Left: April, 1949 . A Chicago-bound special that carried the insurance executives plus 2 young college students. Right: preparing to switch the Orleans to French Lick Train 23, after it backed into the station. This white flags indicate this was an "extra".. The gentleman in the overcoat is the Monon official who was responsible for the special to McDoel Yard. -John Pickett Photographs-
Monon Bus #2 in front of the French Lick Depot. The passenger cars were on the other side of the depot. -John Pickett Photograph-
There are a number of colorful stories concerning the origin of the town’s name but the most widely-accepted theory came from its early settlers. French Lick got its name from the early French settlers and the “mineral licks.” French traders came to the area and discovered the mineral springs bubbling from the ground in the vicinity of what is now French Lick. At the same time, they discovered the abundance of wildlife that flocked to them to lick the mineral deposits left on the ground and rocks. Around 1832, Dr. William Bowles, a nearby businessman, purchased a considerable piece of property around the most significant springs. Eight years later, Bowles and partner John Hursgate began a mercantile trade selling the water and they built a three-story guesthouse for the recovery of the water, they called Pluto Water after the Greek god of the underworld.
Postcard, circa 1908, of the Pluto Water spring at the French Lick Springs Hotel
Left and Right: Pluto Water advertisements, circa 1930's.
Bowles chartered the town in 1857 and later died in 1873. His wooden hotel structure burned in 1897 and the property was then purchased by a syndicate fronted by Indianapolis Mayor and National Democratic Committee Chairman Thomas Taggart and he began construction on what is now the French Lick Springs Resort and Spa.
Left: The Springs Hotel, circa 1909. Right: Aerial view postcard of the Springs, circa 1939
As many as 14 Pullman train cars a day pulled into
town, traveling mainly down the Monon and Southern Railway systems. In
1907 a limestone passenger
station was built and in 1929 a brick freight station constructed to handle
the influx of tourists, who didn’t only come to drink the water. At
the turn of the twentieth century, tourists particularly came for the casino
gambling, although it was illegal. Until 1949, Taggart had all the right political
connections to avoid prosecution and as a result thousands of dollars were dropped
at gambling halls like the Elite Club and the Brown. Not only did dignitaries
like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lana Turner, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope visit,
but French Lick also produced its own notes of infamy. In
1917 the chef at the French Lick Resort ran out of oranges to serve for breakfast
so he created tomato juice for the first time.
-Courtesy Orange County, Indiana Web site-
For a couple of years French Lick was the spring training home of both the Chicago baseball teams. Because of World War II travel restrictions, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis declared that all teams should hold spring training in 1943 north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River. (There were no MLB teams west of St. Louis or south of St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington. Both teams trained in French Lick for the 1943 and 1944 session. But in 1945, the White Sox relocated spring training 105 miles north to Terre Haute, while the Cubs remained in French Lick one final year. By 1946, the travel restrictions were lifted and despite the travel savings of Indiana, both teams were back training in sunny California, never again to spend their springs north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Spring training camps in French Lick
Left: House tracks in front of the Springs, circa 1930's. Right: Yard at French Lick, circa 1932. The freight house is in the background.
Left: GM's Train Of Tomorrow arrives in French Lick, circa 1947.
Another look at the French Lick yard and the Monon freight house. Some of the great shots from the Charles Huffer CD collection, available from the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society. Visit their Company Store and order a copy.
Steam operating on the French Lick branch. Left Local freight near the freight depot. Right: Freight coming through the yard at French Lick.
French Lick freight house, circa 1932. One of the great shots from the Charles Huffer CD collection, available from the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society. Visit their Company Store and order a copy.
Monon F3 #84B passing the French Lick freight house on it's way north on the French Lick branch mainline. With no head end cars in the picture, this could be a special excursion. Date is unknown. -Charles Herley Photograph, MRHTS Photo Archives Collection-
Left: French Lick Springs Hotel, May 2004. The hotel is still in operation, although the tracks no longer extend to the front steps. Right: The end of the house tracks. This is all that remains of the house tracks in 2004. The former path to the front steps can still be seen running through the hotel parking lots.
Left: Looking at the scar of the old house tracks. It is easy to follow the line from where the rails end to the front door. Right: Not all the rails have been removed. These pictured are from the spur which once ran to the power house. Also coming off the private car tracks in front of the hotel was a spur that crossed Highway 56 and went to the Pluto Corporation. Pluto Corporation, a local lumber yard, along with the team track at the freight station accounted for the vast majority of the freight traffic to and from the valley.
This depot, currently home to the Indiana Railway Museum, was built in 1908. the stone depot was built. The Museum operates on both Monon and Southern Railway tracks and runs excursions through the Hoosier National Forest. The Museum is also home to Monon Caboose # 81532, which is owned by the Monon Railroad Historical - Technical Society.
Left: Monon caboose 81532, on display at French Lick. Right: View from the cupola window, looking north. The building in the distance was once the freight house in French Lick.
Left: French Lick Freight House, 1976. This freight house served the travelers who came to this resort. Right: Another shot of the freight house, circa 1983. The Indiana Railway Museum is already acquiring rolling stock.
French Lick line 2004. Left: Pictured is the former Monon mainline which curves away towards the right side of the image. This area composed the "wye" where engines and entire trains could be turned. Right: Indiana Railway Museum equipment stored on the west leg of the "wye". While exploring the track, there was a baggage car that I originally thought was a former Monon car, based on the color scheme.
Left: French Lick depot and Monon caboose, circa 2003. Right: The former Monon right of way. Just north of where this picture was taken was another leg of the "wye". You are looking south towards the depot. Pictured is equipment of the Indiana Railway Museum.
French Lick Today
September 30, 2005 through October 2, 2005 the Town Of French Lick played host to the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society Inc., Annual Meeting and Convention. Much of the French Lick branch has been removed, but the legacy remains. Construction has torn up the parking lot at the Springs Hotel and Resort.
Left: Looking along the former spur line that served the Pluto Water Bottling Plant and Power Plant near the hotel and resort. Right: View of the old Power Plant building.
Left and Right: Two views of the Pluto Corporation building across from the hotel and resort.
Downtown French Lick. Left: Looking down College Street. Right: Looking back towards the Springs Hotel and Resort down Maple Street.
Left: What a difference a fresh paint job makes. Part of the improvements at French Lick with the arrival of the casino was some attention to the Museum. Boxcar painted in the Pluto Water scheme. Right: Former Monon/ Southern depot at French Lick. Excursion dinner trains between Jasper and French Lick now arrive and depart from this depot. The former trolley car has being restored and operates over some of the former Monon between the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Hotel. The former Monon depot has been renovated.
The new game in town. The casino that has revitalized French Lick and West Baden.
Restored Trolly that is running between the two hotels and the casino.
French Lick and the French Lick Scenic Railway is also the home to the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society's business car The Lynne. The car was donated to the Society by the Brown Family and has been restored and converted for use on the on the Spirit Of Jasper Dinner Train and special excursions by the French Lick Scenic Railway. The excursion and the dinner are a grand experience.
The restored Monon business car.