If you’re looking for a vacation destination with quaint cabins nestled in the woods, horseback riding and hiking trails, and a serene oasis of wooded hills and gently rolling pastures, look no further than Wilstem Ranch. Located on U.S. Highway 150 near the historic Indiana towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs, Wilstem Ranch sits on 1,100 acres at the southwestern edge of Southern Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest.
Wilstem is a place for peaceful retreat, rest and relaxation. Its natural beauty and rolling farmland make it one of the premier guest ranch destinations in the American Midwest.
Wilstem is a good base from which to explore surrounding communities and neighboring state Kentucky. Only minutes away are the communities of French Lick, West Baden and Paoli. Play at the 1924 PGA Championship Hill Course made famous by legendary golfer Walter Hagan, or play a round at the breathtaking Pete Dye course located behind the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the historic West Baden Hotel. Enjoy a day of fun on the water at Patoka Lake, skiing at Paoli Peaks, or experience a much simpler way of life with the Amish people in Montgomery, Indiana. Explore the musical legacy of Lotus Dickey in Orange County, or visit the famed Benedictine Monastery in Ferdinand, and the nearby Indiana cities of Bloomington (home to Indiana University), Indianapolis, and Evansville.
An hour’s drive away across the Ohio River is Kentucky. There you will find the famed Churchill Downs racetrack, home of the Kentucky Derby. While there visit the Derby Museum, the Falls of the Ohio Museum, or shop at Louisville’s two premiere malls, Oxmoor and Mall St. Matthews.
Just a bit further are most of Kentucky’s famous horse farms including Three Chimneys, Darley (owned by the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum), and Ashford. You can even visit a Bourbon distillery to make a day trip to the Bluegrass State complete.
No matter how you choose to spend your time you will enjoy your stay at Wilstem Guest Ranch. Walk the trails that crisscross the property and enjoy its natural beauty including several remote caves.
Be sure to watch for an abundance of wildlife that call Wilstem home, including deer, wild turkey, fox, coyote, and the American bald eagle. From horseback riding to hiking, zip lining to ATV tours, swimming to golfing, the experience of natural beauty, history, and peace and tranquility will keep you coming back again and again to Wilstem Guest Ranch.
Walk across the covered bridge at Wilstem Guest Ranch and you will step into a place of rolling hills, quiet pastures and loads of history, all waiting to be explored. Wilstem Guest Ranch can trace its beginnings back to 1915 when the property was purchased by Ed Ballard, a noted local entrepreneur who developed the area as a hideaway for wealthy and famous people. Always a horse lover, Ballard owned a string of blooded show horses he annually entered in horse shows around the country, winning many prizes along the way. Ballard owned a large interest in the West Baden Springs Hotel, and he bought out circuses throughout the country, eventually forming the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, larger even than the Barnum or Ringling Brothers circuses. Ballard established a winter quarters for his circus in nearby West Baden Springs.
Ballard sold his circus and hotel interests just before the Great Depression but he kept the Wilstem Ranch property as a hunting ground and private playground. President Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed hunting pheasant and quail through the large stands of walnut trees on the property; actors Henry Fonda and Tom Mix were regular visitors as was the famous Chicago gangster Al Capone, who married one of his wives in front of the fireplace in the historic lodge. While visiting the area F.D.R. announced his candidacy for president at the nearby French Lick Hotel. Legendary heavyweight world boxing champ Joe Lewis trained on the Wilstem grounds, in the forest, and in the ranch’s historic Red Barn.
Ed Ballard died in 1936 and the property stayed in his family until 1950 when it was purchased by John Cabot, the owner of the nearby French Lick Resort. Cabot died in the late 1950s and the property was sold, named Wilstem Farm, and used as a hunting grounds.
In the late 1980s, the property got a new lease on life when it was purchased by Jerry Fuhs, a Southern Indiana entrepreneur, who for many years managed concerts for mega stars including George Jones, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Hank Williams Jr.and Ray Charles; and groups like Alabama, The Grass Roots, Dr. Hook and many others. Fuhs was looking for a getaway spot for his personal use. “This place is 1,100 acres of unparalleled natural beauty; it’s just full of history and it deserves the utmost attention to preservation,” said Fuhs, who began an extensive restoration of the property in 1988. All of the farm’s original buildings were restored, including the 10 bedroom lodge, built of solid walnut logs cut on the property. Riding and hiking trails were cleared and restored, ponds were stocked with fish, and modern guest quarters were added.
For nearly 100 years, the fate of Wilstem Guest Ranch and the historic towns of French Lick and West Baden have been closely intertwined. While the Wilstem restoration has been ongoing since the late 1980s, the phenomenal renaissance of French Lick and West Baden over the past 10 years has strengthened the bond between these three historic places. Visionary entrepreneurship and a love for historic preservation have again made all three some of the most popular vacation destinations in the Midwest.
Today, Wilstem Guest Ranch welcomes guests from every corner of the United States and from many countries overseas. It is the Fuhs’ family’s vision for Wilstem Guest Ranch that keeps it moving forward into the 21st century. “The property is preserved, mostly intact,” said Jerry. “It’s a respite from the hectic pace of everyday life, a real treasure to be enjoyed now and for future generations.”