Note: On Sunday, February 18, 2001 there was a devastating
fire on Maple Street, downtown French Lick. Over 14 hours were required by the
local fire departments to fight and contain the fire which destroyed the
historic building which housed the K & K Sports Bar. The building started
it's life as the Witsman Hotel and then the Grand Hotel. The history of French
Lick is becoming blurred as the days advance and the older citizens of town are
passing. Fortunately we have an account of the Downtown inhabitants, passed on
to us by Marvin Beatty, written by Parke Flick, a long time business man in the
town. Parke celebrated his 89 year of life last year. We truly thank this
contributor for his helping us remember and record life in French Lick over the
years. This letter was written to the Editor of the Springs Valley Herald, but
was never published.
I, at last, found something of
interest on your front page, i.e. "History Lesson." I have always
been amazed that, when strangers come to town looking for the history of French
Lick, they seldom contact the old natives. I would like to add to your recent
You state that two hotels, "are
about the only buildings remaining from the depression era." Practically
all the downtown buildings are pre-depression, including the Springs Valley
Bank building. Their insurance building once housed a drug store, which was
almost cut in half in order to widen College Street from Maple to Indiana
The bank building had three offices
upstairs, The American Legion - WW1 Vets occupied one room. The township
trustee, Henry Burton, had an office, as did Clauide Pierce, a dentist, who at
one time lived where my wife and I have lived for 49 years. Dr. W.W. Sloan, who
delivered me in 1913, also had his office there. His home stood on Maple
Street, on a lot now owned by John Aylsworth.
Dr. Sloan’s home was almost
identical to the home, also on Maple Street, now owned by Bill Burton. For many
years this home was the residence of William Washburn Cave, fondly called
"Banker Bill," since there was another Bill Cave, who was known as
"Gravel Road Bill," who owned Cave Quarries. W.W. Cave was president
of the French lick State Bank from 1903 until the bank was sold to outside
interests in 1958.
The reason the aformentioned homes
were somewhat alike was that the father of the first Mrs. Cave built the homes
for her and her sister. Whose married name was Pigg. On the lower floor of the
bank building, other than the bank, was the post office. The postmaster was
Mollie Askren. Other workers were Felix Roach, Gallie Clay and his brother
Wilton, William Beatty and Clarence Tolliver. The letter carriers were Clem
Tolliver and Virgil Powell. There were two deliveries per day. In more recent
years Dr. Sugarman’s office was located there.
The Dickason building had offices
upstairs, as pointed out in your article. In addition to Hendrix and Son and
Clyde Edgell, an attorney, there was another lawyer, Harry Carpenter, and Dr.
Ulysses Grant Beatty. Another physician, Dr. Hammond had an office at the rear
of the drug store, which was owned by the aforementioned Dr. Sloan. The
caretakers of the upstairs were Bill Harlow and Ed Cook, who were village
characters along with their friend, Sam Owens. Sam was the originator of the
saying "Three Dog Night." He always had a pack of dogs following him
and the colder the night the more dogs he would sleep with. His last home, or
shack, was behind the Orange County Beverage Building on Wells Avenue.
On the first floor of the Dickason
Building, next to the drug store was a grocery owned by Marion Spicely
"Spice" Flick, who also was a teacher in the French Lick Township
schools. There was a bowling alley in this area in the mid-1930’s. It later
became "The Little Dress Shop" owned by Bertha Wolf.
Next was the Gresham Brothers
General Merchandise and Clothing Store, now housing the French Lick 5 & 10.
The Gresham storeowner, Walter Q. Gresham, lived on Maple Street in the home
now the office of Attorney John Duncan.
The next room was a barber shop with
four chairs. It was staffed by Johnson Main, father of Harold Main, Elmer
Dishon, Alonzo McIver and Ben Taylor. In the rear of this shop was a public
bath, where for a small charge, you could take a bath. Very few homes had
running water when I was a child. This bath was a busy place on Saturdays. This
room was later used as a shoe repair shop owned by Ed Gromer, the father of
Bill Gromer a local resident. It then became the office of Seabord Finance
Company, staffed by local residents Don Wilkinson and Mrs. Jim Ballard. Where
the Police Station now stands was once a miniature Golf Course, owned by George
On the opposite side of Maple Street
was the Brown Building. The upper floors served as a casino, owned by Ed
Ballard and his cousin, Norman Ballard, whose home still stands on Maple
Street. On the lower floors was an Oriental Gift Shop owned by a Hindu named
Mollah, also the office of Public Service Company (electric), and Pruett
Brother’s Clothing. Next was the "lower" Drug Store, whose owner was
Ogle Bliss Hancock known as O.B. His home still stands on Indiana Avenue, the
large yellow brick. Marvin Cave later owned this store.
Across main Street was the Star
Store, a general merchandise, grocery and wallpaper store. W.W. Cave, Clarence
Ellis and Bloomer Oliphant Wells, known as B.O. Wells owned this. His wife,
Ethel, taught in local schools many years. Her sister, Verna Cunningham,
provided the money to build the local library, naming it in honor of their
mother, Mrs. Melton. Also on the second floor of the Star Store was a Dr.
Schumacher, a dentist, the son-in-law of Mr. Witsman, whose name will appear
later. The local telephone company, known as the Star Telephone Company had
their switchboard and office in a small room in the northeast corner. When I
was about 3 or 4 the Rebecca Lodge was on the third floor, later moving to the
Odd Fellows Building.
Next was a jewelry store operated by
John Hollingsworth. He once had a car called an Apperson Jack Rabbit. He said
it used so much gasoline that he had to stop the motor in order to fill the gas
tank. The B. L. Savage jewelry store was in this spot during the 1970’s and
Next in line was the Sloan Building.
If you look today, you may see the name Sloan in tile letters on the step,
which remains after the fire of 1988. My wife and I owned a clothing store in
this room for 25 years, closing in 1984. Prior to this it served as a Greek
candy kitchen. The owner was a person named Tom Poulous. It then became a
restaurant owned by Fred Newton. Pruett Brother’s , whose clothing store had
been in the Brown Building, now owned this room and remained there until the mid-50’s.
Then comes what some of you recall
as King’s 5 & 10, later King’s Florist. In earlier days there was a
poolroom in the rear and a barbershop in front. The Dream Theater was next, it
was owned by brothers, Bill and Tildon Luckett. The Luckett home is on Maple
Street on the east side of the foot of the steepest part.It is now owned and
being restored by Town Board Member, Bill Ratliff.The next room housed a
restaurant owned by Tom Condra and his wife Vicie.
Adjoining this was a clothing store
operated as L.T. Coyne, a resident of West Baden. The building burned many
years ago. Coyne also had a store in West Baden. In the meantime, there were
businesses in this area, working out of smaller quarters. In August of 1974,
Bob Deremiah built his drug store in this location, moving from the corner of
Maple, where his father,Ray, had purchased the City Drug Store in 1944.
In the next building was a music
store, the owner was George Ellensohn, who sold various musical instruments,
including victrolas, commonly known as record players. In the late 1930’s there
was a restaurant and ice cream parlor in what is now the Colonial Bar.This was
owned by Glenn Ballard.
Coming next was the Rialto Theater.
This is now a part of the K & K Bar, in the 1930’s it housed an A & P
Food Store. The theater was owned by a Mr. Witsman, who had the hotel next
door, known as the Witsman Hotel, later the Grand. The lobby was downstairs
until in later years when the hotel business was in decline. It was then moved
to the second floor. A ladies hat shop was in this room, owned by Mrs. Harvey
Dean, grandmother of Mrs. John Renner and Mrs. Don Clark. This shop later moved
to the two story building located behind the Post Office. At that time it stood
on the corner of College and Walnut Street, facing College Street. A restaurant
was put into operation on the first floor of the Grand Hotel.
The downstairs of the Odd Fellows
Building served many businesses through the years. At one time the Ritter
Furniture Store and Funeral Parlor was located here. Then the Collins Apparel
Shoppe, selling ladies wear. Lloyd "Diddle" Collins, who was the
manager of the original Pluto Bottling Company, owned it. The Jay C Store,
managed by Frank and Bea Reynolds, was also located here prior to moving where
the Senior Citizens Building is today.
Then came a Western Auto and Lester
Love Shoe Repair and Clothing Store. The corner building now owned by
Tolliver’s Jewelry, was also a drug store. It was owned and operated by William
McCoy and wife. I can still see Mrs. McCoy sitting in her rocking chair in
front of the windows. There were candy jars lined along the railing visible
from the street, I heard my first radio broadcast in this store in the early
1920’s. Later there were various operations, including groceries.The last
occupant prior to Mr. Tolliver was Bernice Gromer’s Dry Goods Store.
Across College Street on the corner,
was a home where Dr. Sloan lived prior to moving up Maple Street. In the 1920’s
the French Lick High School basketball coach, D.V. Singer, lived there. This
home then, for a short time, was a house of ill repute. In about 1928 - 1930,
W.V. Ritter and son built the present structure as a Funeral Home and Furniture
Along Indiana Avenue, what is now
part of the bank employee’s parking lot, stood a two story building called
Babylon. It served as quarters for some of the colored employee’s of the French
Lick Springs Hotel. On the first floor was a pool hall, gambling room and bar.
In the early 1930’s the game was run by Jim Dorsey who lived on Wells Avenue.
In later years the operators were Harrison Lynn and his brother
Parke Flick, 1999