Historic Structures

West Baden Springs Hotel, West Baden Indiana

Date added: May 18, 2016 Categories: Indiana Hotel

The West Baden Springs Hotel rests on rolling land in the middle of extensive forested areas in a region long famous for its mineral springs. In its heydey, during the first three decades of the 20th century, the complex included the 708-room main hotel building, built in 1901-02; a number of smaller structures; and various recreational facilities. The main hotel is a 6-story brick and concrete structure, 16-sided on the exterior, with a vast covered circular "Pompeian Court," or atrium, rising the full height of the building on the interior. A huge steel and glass dome, 195 feet in diameter and 130 feet high, covers the circular court. Elliptical in configuration, the dome is supported by 24 steel ribs connected to a circular plate drum at the crown and tied together at the bottom by circular plate girders that rest only atop the hotel's outer walls at the circumference of the enclosed space. The ribs are supported on giant steel shoes provided with rollers to allow for metallic expansion and contraction. Around the court are two concentric rings of rooms with a corridor between them on each floor.

From its proximity to gambling casinos the West Baden Springs Hotel emerged as the Midwest's answer to Monte Carlo. The resort's exceptional recreational facilities likewise attracted sportsmen, notably practice teams of major league baseball. Through one of its owners, it also had ties to circus history. Finally, in itself, the hotel is a major feat of engineering, featuring an immense covered dome that was the largest in the world when built.

This steel and glass dome covering the inner atrium, of 200 feet in diameter, was an engineering tour de force. It was advertised by its owners and in engineering journals of the time. Its great size, and the desire of its builders to make it the biggest in the world, made it a climactic achievement in a great era of experimentation in the use of metal and glass in the last half of the 19th century. This tradition includes works like the 1851 Crystal Palace at London's World's Fair and the great railroad train sheds and domes of ever-increasing size which culminated in 1893 with William LeBaron Jenney's Horticultural Hall dome at Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition, the outer diameter of which was 187 feet. Although later outstripped in size by other types of domes, including reinforced and geodesic structures, the West Baden Springs Hotel dome may still be the largest of its type in the world.