Today only stained glass windows, a statue of a saint, and a small, well-kept cemetery remain as signs that the former West Baden Springs Hotel was once a Jesuit seminary, known as West Baden College.
After the 1929 stock market crash, the onset of the Great Depression signaled an end to the grand resort business. Hotel owner Ed Ballard gave the multi-million-dollar resort to the Society of Jesus (known as the Jesuits) for $1 in 1934. The hotel was a Jesuit seminary from 1934 to 1964. A cemetery was established soon after the college began. At first the Jesuits were not well received by the townspeople. The town depended on the hotel for its existence, both in terms of jobs and tax base.
The Jesuits came to the new college with orders to make the building more austere. The focal point in the atrium was now a large figure of Christ. The hotel lobby was converted into a chapel, and the carpet in the guest rooms was removed. The spring houses became shrines for the saints. The one-time playground of the rich and famous became a place for prayer and meditation.
Over a period of time the Jesuits were accepted in the West Baden area. An after-Christmas celebration given by the brothers for the townspeople and their children became an annual event. The brothers sang not only Christmas carols but also some light show tunes. They staged skits and served refreshments to their guests in the atrium.
Despite the fact that the West Baden Springs Hotel was once the haunt of the well-to-do in politics, society, entertainment, and sports, the grand old hotel made an ideal place for a seminary. The brothers felt that the several years they had spent at the college were happy and purposeful years. The building had been good for privacy and at the same time it was excellent for interacting with people.
By the 1960s the enrollment at the college had declined, but the expenses and maintenance of the aging building had continued to increase. During June 1964, the Jesuits left their home in West Baden for a new facility in Chicago, Illinois.
The building sat idle for two years, and on November 2, 1966, the grounds and buildings were sold at an auction. Mr. and Mrs. Macauley Whiting of Midland, Michigan purchased the old hotel.
Bundy, Chris. West Baden Springs: Legacy of Dreams, 505 North Main Street, Salem, IN 47167.
West Baden Springs Hotel," Times-Mail Online Supplement, www.tmnews.com.