When nature won’t, Pluto will

Southern Indiana used to be known for its mineral springs. They were incredibly popular in the early-to-mid 20th century. Rail lines brought thousands of people to the adjacent towns of French Lick and West Baden and their springs — these little towns were enormous tourist destinations in those days. They are again, thanks to the casino in French Lick.

Casinos weren’t legal in Indiana until the last 20 years or so. But illegal casinos existed in French Lick anyway in the middle years of the 20th century, and they brought plenty of people to this otherwise small town in Orange County.

But the Pluto spring also brought people to French Lick. Its waters famously contained sulfates of magnesium and sodium, both strong laxatives. Pluto water was bottled and sold nationwide.

Pluto water also contained lithium, which became a controlled substance in 1971. That ended sales of the the Pluto laxative. But by this time the Pluto corporation had learned a lot about bottling liquids, and deftly moved its business into bottling and packaging. The company still exists today, packaging cleaning solutions.

The Pluto spring still exists in French Lick. Margaret and I visited not long ago and made some photos. The place smelled strongly of sulfur.

When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!
When nature won't, Pluto will!

The Pluto spring is on the property of the French Lick Resort, which is on State Road 56 in Orange County, Indiana.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Strolling through Madison

Madison, Indiana, is a preservationist’s dream town. A whopping 133 blocks of its downtown is a Historic District and a National Historic Landmark.

On Main St.
Main Street

Founded in 1810, the town competed with Louisville and Cincinnati as Ohio River port cities. It grew rapidly into the railroad age of the mid-1800s, but railroads leading to those other two cities performed better than the one leading to Madison. Indeed, Madison’s railroad failed in 1862. Even though its line ended up becoming a part of the vast Pennsylvania Railroad system, the die was cast. After the Civil War, Madison’s growth stalled.

Broadway Hotel

Madison’s antebellum loss is our modern gain as it largely froze the town in time. You’ll find all the major architectural styles from the nineteenth, and even some of the twentieth, centuries in downtown Madison.

Ohio Theater
Hinkle Hamburgers

Residences surround the downtown commercial area, and most of the homes are simply stunning.

House in Madison
Madison street
Dr. Hutchings

The river is just a few minutes’ walk from anywhere in Madison’s historic district. Goods are not received at any port here anymore — you’re far more likely to see powerboats racing here. It’s been happening in Madison for at least 100 years. An annual powerboat race, now known as the Madison Regatta, has been held annually since 1929 over the Independence Day weekend.

Bench on the Ohio
Madison, IN

Downtown Madison, Indiana
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

Yesterday I mentioned the Madison State Road, an 1830s highway connecting Indianapolis to Madison on the Ohio River. It was one of two such highways, the other being the Michigan Road. Indiana’s first railroad was built between the two cities, as well.

Madison was, in those days, Indiana’s largest city. It competed as a port city with Cincinnati and Louisville and was probably equally important to those cities then. So it’s small wonder there were so many ways to get to the state’s capital.

But times change, and after the Civil War Cincinnati and Louisville surged in ways Madison did not. It has had the effect of freezing Madison in time. Its streets are lined with buildings built through the 19th century, and most of them have been well preserved. It is a lovely town and well worth visiting.

Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Downtown Madison, Indiana