Following The Ohio River (Roadtrip Day 2 Cont’d)

After swinging through Aurora, we decided to take a detour from US-50 and follow Rt-56, which winds along the Ohio River.


Route-56 is a beautiful drive, with amazing views of the Ohio River (and Kentucky beyond):


Below,  the path we took:


Often, the view of the river would be replaced by cornfields…


It was on Route 56 that we first started seeing abandoned farming buildings. I started taking pictures like a crazy…


…and more…


…and more, until I began to realize that abandoned farm buildings are really, really common in the midwest, and we’d never finish the roadtrip if I shot every single one.

We continued down 56…


…passing into Switzerland County, Indiana, marked by this great sign:


We passed this enormous, somewhat creepy-looking rubber ducky outside of a daycare center just down the road…


Hidden behind the foliage: a really old hand-painted Pepsi sign, with lettering advertising an RV park below:


As we rounded a bend in the road, we noticed this graveyard just on the edge of an immense cornfield…


…which apparently belongs to the Gale family. Sort of an interesting thought to have stalks of corn growing within four feet of a grave…


Then we rolled into Madison, Indiana, one of the most beautiful small towns I’ve ever visited.


One of the largest historic districts in the country, the entire run of Madison’s Main Street looks as new as if it were built yesterday:


Founded in 1809, Madison was once a thriving town due to its location along the Ohio River, as well as its place in the Madison & Indianapolis railroad. The bank building, built in 1833:


Clock outside the bank building:


According to its Wikipedia entry, Madison’s historic district features examples of all the major architectural styles of the 19th and early 20th centuries, from Federal to Art Moderne.


The Ohio Theater:


A glimpse at a side street leading to the river:


John Knoebel & Son Clothing:


If you’re ever nearby, Madison is one of the most charming Main Streets you’ll ever visit, with lots of fun shops and the river just a block away. A beautiful mansard-roofed building:


At that point, the sun was beginning to set, and we continued on our way to meet up with Route 50:


We passed through a number of small towns – I especially liked this old hotel:


As we rolled into West Baden, we passed by this intriguing arch. We almost didn’t stop because of the late hour…but my curiosity was piqued!


We had no idea what was down the long brick drive. What the heck did “West Baden Springs Carlsbad of America” even mean?? As we neared the end of the drive, we began to see a building obscured by foliage. We caught glimpses of a porch…


Breaks in the trees confirmed it to be a hotel…


…which seemed to grow grander as we continued down the drive…


Then, we came around to the rear and realized that this was much bigger than we had expected:


We went in through the front doors, and saw an atrium just inside. We passed through…


…and were blown away by what we saw:


Then we looked up…


…and up:


The West Baden Springs Hotel is a recently restored resort dating back to 1902. Up until 1955, it had the largest free-spanning dome in the world:


The dome was unbelievably huge, with six stories of hotel rooms overlooking the main floor (note the balconies):


A hotel was first built on the site in 1852, offering access to the “curative powers” of the town’s natural springs. After the hotel burned down in 1901, the current building was constructed, and remained operating until 1932, when the Stock Market Crash literally cleared the place out overnight. It was sold, and over the decades, fell into immense disrepair:


The atrium in its prime:

In recent years, a local casino purchased and restored the property. I’m not 100% sure how true they were to the original design, but I’m just glad it survived its near-death experience. I can’t tell you how incredible it is to stand in such an immense room, which my pictures do not do justice:


Also, nearly all the light in the atrium was from sunlight passing through the dome. I really wished we could have stayed until it was totally dark out, when the only light would come from a few scattered lamps on the floor.


We met up with Route 50 and continued into Illinois.


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  1. That is incredible! How was the sound in the atrium?

  2. Breathtaking. Simply breathtaking. Thank you for these photos!

  3. Those are amazing pictures. It is sad what people miss when they only travel the interstate system.

  4. it is awesome to see my town town featured! Madison is a place where people come to visit and actually decide to move here, there are so many family activities, especially in the summer that theres no reason to ever get bored.

  5. Fabulous–you have provided us with lots of inspiring and beautiful places to visit off the beaten path…

  6. Great pics! I feel like I’m travelling with you.

  7. Funny, I think I have an old postcard from that resort—I had no idea it was such a fancy place!

  8. I was going to ask you why you didn’t spend the night in this GORGEOUS hotel, then I googled it and one package deal suggested the room rate was in the $275-$325 price range. That’s a bit steep for me, or at least until I win the lottery LOL Loving the pics.

  9. I don’t think I’ll ever be impressed by an atrium again after seeing Gaylord Opryland’s Delta Atrium:

  10. I grew up in Indianapolis and spent most of the years between ’90-’95 driving around southern Indiana along the very roads you’re traveling. S. Indiana is modestly, quietly beautiful. The best park in the state–Clifty Falls State Park–is just outside of Madison. And I think at one point in the late 90s, Rising Sun, IN had some kind of incentive package to entice artists to move and work there.

    I am jealous of your roadtrip. Enjoy.

  11. Swing up through WI, you won’t be disappointed!

  12. Loved seeing this – and we do enjoy other folks’ reaction to our gorgeous little piece of the world! Nice to have you visit – please come back when you can stay longer.

  13. I am loving following along on your road trip! Aren’t you glad you stopped. You are making me really want to get out and do a road trip! Awesome job!

  14. West Baden is truly amazing, especially when you see how bad it looked before they fixed it up. I’m glad you guys got to see it (and skipped the casino in French Lick, which is everything West Baden is not–gilded and noisy and cheap).

    Trufax: The dome is made out of wood, and is on rollers to allow it to expand and contract with heat, moisture, etc.

  15. Hmm, so first you encounter the Gale family, then find yourself in Oz. And you’re not even in Kansas!

  16. Found your blog just recently and enjoy it very much. If you liked Madison, I hope you get to go through Galena, IL. I think you’ll love it (I’m from CO, so no horse in the race).

  17. Bad news… after 98 years of menswear sales, John Knoebel & Son closed for good yesterday (Wednesday).

    Here’s the story:,0,3608188.story

  18. are you coming through louisville, ky or new albany, in?

  19. The “Carlsbad of America” sign presumably is a reference to the famous European hot springs of Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) in the Czech Republic.

  20. Thank you for visiting us in Indiana! You have many fans here. If you’d like more history as to the resurrection of this beautiful building, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    The most significant contribution was made by Bill Cook of Bloomington. Despite the comments above, the West Baden revamp was made mostly possible by the Casino’s inclusion. There were legislative efforts that contributed to this. In addition, there was significant assistance from Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, led by Marsh Davis.

    Take care and safe travels!

  21. Natalie Conseur

    Great pics! I spent the summer in Rising Sun, IN a few years ago. A couple of professors from the University of Cincinnati Music Conservatory hold a workshop there for aspiring opera singers. Great place to spend the summer singing, but awfully hot! Looking forward to more of your sights.

  22. That hotel is amazing! Thanks for sharing.

  23. I had the good luck of stumbling across Madison, IN and the adjacent Clifty Falls State Park when I was at school in Bloomington. I agree thoroughly with your assessment that Madison is one of the premier small towns in the US.

  24. Here is a documentary-type video on this hotel if any one is interested. Courtesy of Smithville Tele.

  25. that road (sun setting on route 50) looks so beautiful – looks like where im from, in ontario. and the graveyard? great picture. im so inspired to head off on a roadtrip of my own.