By Tim Ashley
Condominiums at Lake Wawasee or any of the other major local lakes is quite common. But the history behind a condo development on the north shore of Lake Wawasee is quite colorful.
Today the Wawasee Spink Condominiums still takes up a big portion of the lake’s north shoreline. But what some may not be aware of is this building, at least the shell of it, was once a well known luxurious hotel in the era when hotels were more common around the lake.
Prior to the arrival of the white man, this land was included in a Miami Native American reservation led by Chief Flat Belly. In 1834, the land was returned to the U.S. government and after a series of new ownerships was purchased by the North Lake & River Association in 1879. In 1890 the association built a two-story clubhouse with 50 sleeping rooms and a dining room able to seat 125.
Later, at a sheriff’s sale, this building was sold to the Cedar Beach Association, whose membership list included Col. Eli Lilly. A mysterious fire destroyed the building in 1891 and the Wawasee Inn was erected on the site. It was also a two-story structure and featured a broad veranda, large dining room and dance hall.
Lilly obtained ownership of the building in another sheriff’s sale and operated it until his death in 1899. Following his death, Clinton and Emma Wiggins purchased the building and later sold it to the Ballou brothers from Chicago in 1914. A fire believed to be started by an unknown arsonist destroyed the Wawasee Inn in the winter of 1918.
Less than a decade later, this site would become famous. Ground was broken in 1926 for a new $350,000 hotel, a huge sum at that time, on the site of the former Wawasee Inn. Edgar G. Spink of Indianapolis was the builder of the complex.
In 1926 the hotel was unveiled at a gala with 300 guests paying $5 per plate for a dinner with a dance included. This event was hosted by the Spink family.
Mr. Spink died in 1927 and then his daughters, Urbana Spink and Bonaventura Cunniff became actively involved in operating the hotel.
A 1928 advertisement for the hotel found in the Wawasee Directory noted it could accommodate 300, every room had a private bath and the building was fireproof. At this point it was still known as the Wawasee Hotel & Country Club but it was later renamed the Spink Wawasee. The Spink sisters also owned and managed a luxury apartment and hotel complex in Indianapolis.
Warm, buff-colored stucco walls were topped with a red, ceramic tile roof. Guests arrived by the B & O Railroad, by airplane (there was a small airport a few hundred yards away), by bus or automobile. A vehicle was on call to pick up those arriving by rail or air.
During its heyday, the Spink was used by some notable people or organizations. The Democratic state convention was held there in 1932 at a convention hall built at the facility. The Detroit Lions football team held pre-season training at the Spink, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis trained there for a while and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were frequent guests, among others.
Tragedy struck the Spink sisters as Bonnie was frozen to death in a blinding snowstorm and Urbana barely survived. She eventually closed the hotel after the 1947 season.
The Spink property was later purchased by the Fort Wayne/South Bend Catholic Diocese and served as a seminary. In 1967 it became known as the Wawasee Preparatory School. The school closed in 1976 and the property was vacant until purchased by the Miller family in 1979, who later had it redeveloped into the condos still standing today.
Information for this article was obtained from a guest article written for The Mail-Journal July 6, 1988, by T.L. Farris.
NOTES: Next I will write about the Tippy Dance Hall. Call (574) 658-4111, extension 2306, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have comments or suggestions.