Meandering Hamilton County
I’d like to start out this blog by sharing one of my favorite websites with you – the U.S. Census Bureau. Click on Indiana on this web page’s map, and you will find that we now have county-level data showing population increase and decrease based on the 2010 census. It only takes a quick glance to see that Hamilton County is a big winner in the increase column.
If you’ve been anywhere near central Indiana lately, though, you already knew this. It doesn’t take a population scientist to see that Hamilton County – Carmel and Fishers, especially – have been growing very rapidly. Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Historical Society funded an oral history project back in 1998 to collect and transcribe the stories of early Hamilton County settlers. The project description began: “Clay Township and Carmel, Indiana, have known phenomenal growth in recent years, changing the landscape and demography of Hamilton County.” The proposal argued that, with this rapid expansion, stories of rural Hamilton County would soon vanish into history. Clearly, this trend has continued.
I have recently had several adventures in Hamilton County. On a visit to City Hall in Carmel, Mayor James Brainard explained the city’s plan to make Carmel into an arts destination. The Carmel Arts and Design District is one manifestation of this idea, with galleries, office space, antique shops and entertainment.
The jewel of the city is the Center for Performing Arts, which includes three venues: The Tarkington, the Studio Theater, and the Palladium. We toured the Palladium, an impressive concert hall with marble floors and European echoes in its design. We also learned about Michael Feinstein, the Center’s artistic director, who has brought his Great American Songbook historical collection to the facility where a small museum will be set up on an upper floor of the Palladium. Our tour included a chance to sit in the choir seats on the stage itself.
Turning back to the past again, we note that the tracks of the Monon Railroad were laid through Carmel in 1882, and a railroad depot opened the next year. Train service to Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville could be accessed by Carmel residents from this convenient spot. The depot closed in 1974 but was preserved and is now a museum run by the Carmel Clay Historical Society. Indiana Humanities and Indiana Landmarks recently gave the society a grant to tell the depot’s story to another generation via the schools.
The Monon Depot Museum, which is open on Friday and Saturday (1-4 pm) and Sunday (2-4 pm) from April to October, is a charming place that retains the look of a depot and offers a variety of displays from Carmel’s history. Through November 1, the museum is showing an exhibit on artist Franklin Booth, a native of Carmel who illustrated books by James Whitcomb Riley, Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, and Meredith Nicholson with pen-and-ink drawings. Sometimes he contributed only the borders for the illustrations, but he always managed to work in his initials, “FB.”
I should mention a few more communities before leaving Hamilton County, so here they are:
- Fishers – home of Conner Prairie and of the Historic Ambassador House and Heritage Gardens
- Noblesville – the county seat
- Cicero – where Indiana Humanities and the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University will be facilitating a Community Conversation later this year.
Finally, I must brag a bit – I have actually negotiated a Carmel roundabout successfully, not once but twice. When I finally realized that I would either have to change lanes at some point or keep going around indefinitely, it all became clear, at last.
Thank you to Sharon Kibbe and Virginia Terpening, who hosted my visits to the City Hall/Palladium and to the Monon Depot Museum.