Thomas Taggart

(Chapter 4)
History of the French Lick Springs Hotel
By Richard Walter Haupt

(Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in the School of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University, August, 1953)

In 1856, while William A. Bowles was building and adding to his new hotel and laying out the town of French Lick, Thomas Taggart was born in County Monyhan, Ireland. His parents came to this country in 1861 and located in Xenia, Ohio.
In Xenia, young Tom began working in a restaurant for O. H. Ohmer. Ohmer owned other restaurants in Indiana, and soon Tom Taggart was given a better job in Garret, Indiana. He did so well, that in 1876, he was put in charge of three lunch in the Union Depot in Indianapolis. When the new depot was built in 1890, Tom Taggart put up a big new cafe. While managing the restaurants in the old Union Depot in 1886 he decided to enter politics. Taggart was nominated on the Democratic ticket for Marion County Auditor. He was told the office was "sewed up" by Republicans. Undaunted, he set out to win. He possessed a personality and winning way which enabled him to make friends with naturalness and ease. His memory of names and faces was amazing to all who knew him. He seldom forgot a person he had met. His willingness to work also accounted for much of his success. Aided by these characteristics of personality, Taggart succeeded in winning the election in 1886. He astounded everyone the office was worth $50,000.00 a year in fees and was held for a term of four years. In 1888, Taggart was made County Democratic Chairman, and in 1890, he ran for the auditorship and was reelected. Taggart gained a wide reputation for his ability to get votes. In 1890, while chairman of the Democratic party in Marion County, he campaigned against William Henry Harrison and actually beat Harrison in his own home town presidential election. This feat gained for him wide recognition, and in 1892, Taggart was made state chairman of the Democratic party. In 1895, he continued his rise to the heights by running for, and being elected, Mayor of Indianapolis. Taggart held this office for three successive two-year terms.
At the completion of his second term as County Auditor, Taggart fulfilled a lifelong ambition to own a hotel by purchasing the Grand Hotel in Indianapolis which had been built in 1873. Under Taggart's management it soon became a gathering place for local and visiting politicians.
  During his first administration as mayor, Taggart filled the duties of the office with conscientiousness. His pet project was the extension of the small and inadequate Indianapolis park system. Taggart acquired for the city the 1,000 acre Riverside Park, Brookside Park, Highland Square, Indiana Square and made numerous improvements in Garfield Park. Taggart was obsessed with the idea of cleanliness. In addition to his park projects, he paved streets and alleys, built new sewers and did much to make Indianapolis aware of its needs as a growing city. When he declined a nomination for fourth term as mayor, the city went back to Republicans.
His success in the hotel business and the nearing of the end of his third term as mayor of Indianapolis prompted him to consider other business possibilities. During the 1890's, Taggart frequently visited the hotels at French Lick and West Baden, and during the winter and spring of 1898-1899 he conceived the plan of building a health resort in the Lost River Valley. At this time, mineral spring resorts were in their heyday in Indiana and by 1900 there were nearly 30 resorts of this kind in the state. Taggart also knew that the sale of mineral water could be profitable. Almost $10,000,000 worth of mineral water was bring sold annually in the United States. The increased sales of Pluto water gave a good indication that there was a market for Indiana mineral water. Taggart interested other men in his idea and soon had the assurance of their support. These men were W. W. McDeal, president of the Monon Railroad, Crawford Fairbanks, owner of a brewery in Terre Haute, and Colonel L. T. Dickason, owner and operator of extensive quarry and mineral interest in Indiana and Illinois. In April of 1900, they proceeded to purchase an 80 acre tract of land situated near the French Lick Springs. He and his partners then contacted an architect and made plans and specifications for hotel buildings, bottling plant, bath house and even proposed a park and golf course.