French Lick - Maple Street History
By Parke Flick
Letter to the editor - Springs Valley Herald - 1999

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 columns.

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 Avenue.

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 Pope

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 80’s.

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 Store.

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 "Yellow."

Parke Flick, 1999