African American History Month: A Lasting Impact
Posted on 2/25/2019 by Visit French Lick West Baden
This February during Black History Month French Lick West Baden would like to take the time to honor and celebrate the sacrifices and accomplishments of African Americans who have journeyed through and become part of our community.
In 1811, eleven African American families led by Jonathan Lindley, traveled with sympathetic Quakers from North Carolina to establish a settlement in the Indiana Territory, these days referred to as “Lick Creek Settlement” or “Paddy’s Garden”. By 1820, the census recorded 96 African Americans in Orange County. These families paved the path with bravery to settle in the Indiana territory as free men and women before the Civil War. During the Civil War most of these families left the area, to seek opportunities in other nearby larger cities. Today Lick Creek Settlement is part of the Hoosier National Forest and can be visited, the grounds still bear a cemetery with the last burial being in 1891, Simon Locust served in the Civil War in Company E of the 13th Infantry Regiment.
In 1909, the Second Baptist Church congregation was formed mostly by African American workers brought North by West Baden Springs Hotel owner Lee W. Sinclair. The church building was built in 1920, Mr. Sinclair deeded the land to the church elders, most of whom were employed by him at the hotel. There were no meeting places other than the church at that time for people of color. School, church and many get-togethers were held in the little building. It was both a spiritual and social sanctuary during the times of segregation. Since 2014, Reverend Dr. Bruce Rose and part of his congregation out of Bloomington have come about once a week to work on restoration of the church. The group hopes that the church will serve as a congregation again, someday. Rev. Rose points out the significance of the church's name, "In most communities, white settlers established the first churches for each denomination so a "first" African American church established is rare."
Boxer Joe Louis was particularly fond of the area. Six months after exiting the Army, Joe Louis came to West Baden Springs to begin his training, to defend his championship title. Louis came to the area to regain the poise, timing and accuracy that had made him World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Louis stayed at the Waddy Hotel while in town but often trained on the grounds of the West Baden Springs Hotel. The Waddy Hotel was known as “The World’s Greatest and Complete African American Health Resort.” Mrs. Nanny Waddy, vowed to keep Joe Louis on track with his training while he was staying in town. Part of his training included road work, wood chopping and softball. Whether it was the famous water, his training or a combination of both…Joe Louis was able to retain his title in the 1st televised World Heavy Weight Championship. The “Brown Bomber” as Louis was known knocked out Billy Conn in round 8, this was the third bout between the pair, with Louis coming out on top each time!
Bell Captain Sam Townsley was a 50-year employee at the French Lick Springs Hotel, meeting and greeting 100’s of thousands of guests that came through the magnificent doors. By the time the French Lick Resort was restored in 2005, Sam had retired, he never got to see the $560 million-dollar restoration that was dubbed “the Save of the Century.” Mr. Townsley was such a dedicated employee that he literally lived on the second floor of the hotel, so that he could be available to “his” guests at all times. Sam remembers training along side Joe Louis, running the hills with him although admittedly his fondest memory is that he could never beat Joe Louis at pool. Sam loved kids and had a motto that “if you take care of the kids, they’ll return with their kids.” That was the case with Sam’s “guests”, they returned year after year, asking for him by name and bringing their families when they grew up. Sam had a way of making each guest feel like they were his only guest and many guests still fondly remember Sam, he gave his heart and soul to each one of them.
Paying tribute to those who have faced adversity throughout time and to their family members who come after in French Lick West Baden; We thank you all for your contributions to the community and value the contributions as undeniable assets. Continue the story with a stop at the French Lick West Baden Museum.
(References: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/16536361/joe_louis_stayed_at_the_waddy_hotel/, https://www.indystar.com/story/news/history/retroindy/2018/09/19/revival-first-baptist-church-west-baden/985505002/, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/hoosier/specialplaces/?cid=fsbdev3_017495, https://www.frenchlick.com/sites/default/files/flipping_book/saveofthecentury/index.html#36, https://frenchlickresort.blogspot.com/2014/03/they-still-ask-for-him-by-name-sam.html )