Tuesday, September 11, 2012

French Lick, IN to Lake Cumberland, KY (Day 3 and 4)

Day 3

Kathy and I are easing into this RV Camping by not going "all out" in the beginning and adding stuff along the way. The first night we camped in Illinois we didn't have water hook ups at the site and we didn't put water in the holding tank. The second night, in Indiana, we decided since there were no water hookups we would go ahead and take advantage of the water filling station and use the holding tank.  At least we wouldn't have to walk to a public restroom. That meant as we were leaving Patoka Lake State Park we would get the experience of a dump station.  I'm very happy to report that we have no dorky story to tell on this one.

So after getting business done, it was back up the road a few miles to French Lick and more specifically, the adjoining town of West Baden Springs.  This small community is home to the West Baden Springs Hotel, which at one time, in the early 1900's, had the largest free-spanning dome in the world.  Undergoing renovation and reopening within the last decade, the hotels history goes back to 1852, when Dr. John Lane built a hotel to compete with the French Lick Springs Hotel , both of which are near a mineral springs which at the time would attract visitors for their "healing" powers. At the time of it's opening French Lick was actually Mile Lick (named after the salt licks discovered in the area in the late 1700's), so he called it the Mile Lick Inn.  It changed names to the current West Baden in 1855 in line with the community changing theirs.

The hotels in French Lick and West Baden competed heavily, and marketed their mineral water under different names.  French Lick sold "Pluto Water" and West Baden "Sprudel Water". By the late 1800's guests were coming from all over the country, and in 1888 a group of investors from Indiana purchased the hotel and it's over 660 acres.  Lee Wiley Sinclair bought out his investor partners and turned the hotel into a resort, calling it "The Carlsbad of America".  The resort included an opera house, bicycle and pony track, and baseball diamond that would be used by several major league teams for springs training.

After a fire in 1901 destroyed everything, Sinclair offered to sell the land to the owner of the French Lick hotel.  However after the French Lick owner turned him down and said he would simply expand his own hotel, Sinclair declared he would build a fireproof hotel with the worlds largest dome. Several builders rejected the challenge, but a bridge engineer from West Virginia named Oliver Wescott accepted, and with several hundred workers, built the structure before the first anniversary of the fire.  It re-opened on September 15, 1902 and was advertised as the Eighth Wonder of the World.   The next few decades would see the decline of the hotel, and finally after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 the hotel struggled and closed its doors in 1932.  It was donated to the Jesuits, a religious organization, in 1934, who converted it the West Baden College, which was a seminary. In the mid 1960's it was sold again and operated as a private college satellite campus until 1983.  Since then, investors have renovated the property and restored it to it's early glory, and in 2007, 75 years after it had closed, the West Baden Springs Hotel reopened.

Belle of Louisville
After West Baden it was time to head toward Kentucky for our next stop Louisville.  This river city has some great history, and although we tend to stick to the smaller, out of the way and lessor knowns, we wanted at least to see the Belle of Louisville, which, built in 1914, is the oldest operating Mississippi style steamboat in the world. This would be a simple pass by for us though, as I was back to "white knuckle driving" getting the camper through downtown.

Churchill Downs
We made a stop at Churchill Downs, home of the famous Kentucky Derby for a quick unwind and picture opportunity, then decided to move on down the road toward Fort Knox.  We had planned a side trip to the allegedly haunted and infamous Waverly Hills Sanitorium, figuring that although the scheduled tours were closed this month, we could at least get a few pictures from their parking lot.  After a bit of trouble trying to find the road to get there, which is actually an entry way to a Golf Course, we made our way up a narrow road to find the gate to Waverly closed.  We respect all No Trespassing signs, but figured maybe we could see something on this side of the gate, so Kathy got out to try to get a picture.  It was about this time we noticed the car that had followed us up the road and as soon as Kathy exited our car he raced up beside us.

"You can't cross that line," the security detail said while pointing to the gate.  "We know, we just thought we would get a quick picture from here and see if there's a way to turn around with our camper," I said with a tinge of hope he would see that there was NO way to get the camper turned around.  "Well, you can't cross that line."  And with that he was back in his car, opening the gate, quickly crossing and just as quick to make sure to stop and hurry back to close it, as if we were going to crash through at any moment.

Yeah, thanks for the assist
This is where the real fun began.  After attempting to turn around a few times with no luck, Kathy and I resolved ourselves to the fact I was going to have to back up with our camper in tow a quarter mile to the Golf Course parking lot.  We were about two or three hundred feet into this when we see a golf cart with two more security detail driving down from the Sanitorium to the gate. "Hey, maybe they saw how we were struggling and have decided to let us pull in to turn around in their  parking lot?"  We got our answer pretty quick as the two goons just sat and stared us down from the gate.  So with a quick "wave", we continued, and I was thankful I had the practice back in Illinois.

Don't get me wrong, Kathy and I completely understand the need in security.  This place has a history of vandalism, etc.  We also highly respect No Trespassing signs, and history hunters that don't give everyone else a bad name.  What struck us was the rather rudeness of the operation.  Typically we wouldn't even write about it, and move on.."our bad".  But after seeing a few other reviews with the same "rude" theme on Trip Advisor, we thought it would be worth mentioning.  My only suggestion would be for the owner to seriously consider training staff on customer skills, and that includes non paying customers who could have promoted your business to others, even though we didn't go in.  Waverly is more than an alleged haunted place, it's a part of history and a grand building that many would write about beyond the spirit aspect.  Again, our only problem with this experience was the rudeness factor, and lack of common courtesy. We would have had to back up anyway if someone wasn't there, but staring us down as we did was a little over the top. While there are several good reviews, we would advise reading through some of the "not so good" before going.

Vault at Fort Knox
On down the road we had to make a quick stop to see Fort Knox.  Established in 1918, this is home to the United States Bullion Depository, holding over 4500 metric tons of gold bullion, roughly 2.5% of all gold ever refined.  As an active military base, there is a long proud history here that includes General George S. Patton.  The Patton Museum contains the largest collection of Patton artifacts in the world, and is a complex worth visiting.  I'm sure we will eventually write more in detail on Fort Knox and it's important role in American Military history.

Lake Cumberland RV Park
After a couple of pics of the Vault from the road, we decided it best to move on to our next camping destination, Lake Cumberland Kentucky.  Since Kathy had good cell coverage, she was able to use her phone as a wifi hotspot while driving and actually booked us a place to set up in advance.  Lake Cumberland RV Park and Golf Driving Range was a very welcome change from our previous nights. This place comes with everything we need, full hookups, very friendly staff (not that the others weren't) and Wifi if your close enough to the office.  They put us in  lot 1, and although we lost their wireless signal a couple of times, we have good cell coverage so Kathy's phone could act as a backup. I realize we are still novices and early into the RV thing, but I couldn't recommend this stop enough for RVer's.  It even has a seasonal indoor pool. Being close to the beautiful waters of Lake Cumberland, we can see why this is a popular spot.

Day 4

This is our first planned two night stop, so the next morning we unhooked the Highlander from the camper and day tripped around the area of Lake Cumberland.  Our goal was Civil War history, and there is plenty of it here. Near Nancy, KY, the Battle of Mill Springs, fought in January of 1862, was the first significant Union Victory as forces under the command of George Thomas defeated Confederates under the command of George Crittenden and Felix Zollicoffer.  Work is underway to make this a National Historic Site, but preservationists have done an excellent job at the state level, with a Museum in Nancy and a 10 stop driving tour that winds up on the opposite side of Fishing Creek.

Down in that grove of trees lies a mass
grave for Confederate Soldiers.
Despite having a fairly equal number of forces, the Confederates were at an immediate disadvantage due to the weather. The cold wet weather of January caused problems with firearms for many of Zollicoffer's troops and visibility of the battlefield made enemy recognition a problem as well. Kentucky, like Missouri, was a border state in the war, not fully declared for either side.  Confederates hoped a victory here would encourage the state to join them, however the Union Victory removed all chances of that. Even with the victory however, Brig. General George H. Thomas wouldn't get the credit he deserved after the fact as he was under a cloud of suspicion due to his southern roots.  President Lincoln even went as far as preventing Harper's Weekly from putting Thomas on the cover.

Grist Mill
Soldiers from at least eight states took part in this battle, and the site of Zollicoffer's death and a mass grave for Confederate troops may have been lost if not for the remembrances of 10 year old Dorotha Burton in 1901.  Growing up on a farm adjacent to the battlefield, Burton would decorate a nearby Oak tree with a wreath of evergreen and the mass grave with wildflowers.  It was that act that inspired Confederate and Union Veterans, along with Zollicoffer's daughters, to erect a permanent remembrance in 1911. Make your first stop the Museum in Nancy and get the driving tour instructions. We found the tour very well marked, even though vandals had removed a couple of the signs last weekend.  This is a scenic area for sure, and you will enjoy the history and the drive very much.  There was some back tracking for us as we had to get across  Fishing Creek and Lake Cumberland to get to the final spots on the tour, but it was worth it.

Grist Mill at Mill Springs has roots back to 1700 when hunters and explorers, called "Long Hunters", found a place "with excellent springs near a waterfall." The settlers were no doubt amazed at the sight of 13 springs flowing from the hillside! Here, Price's Station, one of the first settlements in Kentucky was established and eventually became a fur trading center. In 1774 Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner passed through this area.

Touring this area the day before the 11th Anniversary of 9-11 was a good reminder of just how far our country has come, and the adversity we as Americans can pull through and come back together for the common good.  After this nice leisurely day  we decided we would stay an extra night at our RV campground.  Next on the agenda is the Daniel Boone National Forest.

In the meantime, you can see all the pics from Day 3 and 4, which have been added to our East of the Mississippi Facebook Album HERE.

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