Carmel Clay Historical Society: Preserving Carmel’s Past with Programs, Exhibits, and More

In 1975, the United States looked back on its long, two hundred year history with a country-wide Bicentennial celebration that swept the nation. The Indianapolis suburb of Carmel, Indiana also got swept up in the historical fervor caused by the event: 1975 marks the date of the creation of the Carmel Clay Historical Society, a group dedicated to preserving Carmel’s history and passing it on to a new generation of Carmel people. The Carmel Clay Historical Society participates in many aspects of Carmel society, but everything the organization does is done with one goal. The stated mission of the Carmel Clay Historical Society is to “[enrich] the lives of the residents of Clay Township and the city of Carmel by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of the Monon Train Depot, the city of Carmel and Clay Township, and the people who have lived here.” And over the past thirty-five years, the Society has done just that.

Video of a guided tour through the Carmel Arts & Design District, hosted by the Carmel Clay Historical Society, a Carmel, Indiana organization that seeks to preserve the town’s history


There are two main buildings in Carmel that are operated by the Carmel Clay Historical Society: an archives building and the Monon Depot Museum. Both of these facilities are located near downtown Carmel, along the Monon Greenway. The archives are open all year on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and people are invited to peruse the archive’s hundreds of files on Carmel history. Oral histories, manuscripts, maps, and more are all preserved at the archives, and all the files are open to the public, meaning Carmel people have access to a wide swath of their town’s history.

The Carmel Clay Historical Society‘s archives are mostly used for research purposes, but the Monon Depot Museum (otherwise known as the Carmel Clay Historical Museum) is the Historical Society’s main Carmel attraction. It’s absolutely free to go to the Monon Depot Museum (though donations are encouraged), so it makes for a great Carmel thing to do on a rainy day. The Monon Depot Museum contains rotating exhibits as well as permanent displays, like memorabilia from the Monon Railroad and Carmel’s first stop light, which was also one of the first in the country. The current temporary exhibit at the Monon Depot Museum is Painter with a Pen: Illustrations of Franklin Booth. Booth was a prominent member of the Carmel art scene who drew several depictions of Carmel and had advertisements in magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Harper’s. Booth was also a friend of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley and novelist Theodore Dreiser. Painter with a Pen features many examples of Booth’s illustrations and a decorative lamp called the World War I Victory Lamp.

Video of Katherine Dill, executive director of the Carmel Clay Historical Society, explaining the role of the Carmel, Indiana society and its museum


In addition to the archives and the Monon Depot Museum, the Carmel Clay Historical Society also runs several educational programs for Carmel children and adults alike. One of the more popular of these is History’s Mysteries: What Historic Houses Have to Tell. In this program, kids scope out various aspects of Carmel architecture and learn why some buildings have certain features and others don’t. Led by Rebecca Smith, a Community Preservation Specialist from Indiana Landmarks, History’s Mysteries is a popular series that helps kids learn a little more about the town they live in. And then there’s Family Fun Sundays, in which kids attempt to do chores that their 18th century counterparts might have performed (although chores sound like the opposite of fun). Every year, the Carmel Clay Historical Society also operates six public programs on Carmel history. Three remain this year: The Life of Joe O’Mailia on August 14, a look back at one of the more famous names in Carmel business; History of Carmel High School on October 9, which explores the 200+ year history of the Carmel school; and the CCHS Annual Meeting and Holiday Gathering on December 11.

So whether you’re intensely interested in the history of Carmel, Indiana or just looking for something educational to do during the weekend, the Carmel Clay Historical Society has something for you. Genealogists and other researchers can delve into all the documents in the archives, while more pedestrian history buffs can tour the exhibits at the Monon Depot Museum. Educational programs keep all Carmel residents abreast of the Indy suburb’s illustrious past. All in all, the Carmel Clay Historical Society has done a lot of good for the residents of Carmel, reminding them of where they’re idyllic little Central Indiana community came from while still looking toward the future that awaits it as the 21st century rolls on.

Carmel Clay Historical Society
221 1st St, SW
Carmel, IN 46032

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