The area around present-day Carmel, about 10 miles north of downtown Indianapolis, is one of the Indiana capitol's most affluent suburbs in one of the fastest growing areas in the United States.
It is also home to one of the state's three officially dedicated Cultural Districts. It is home to more than 100 arts and design related businesses like galleries, antique dealers, interior design studios and independent businesses like restaurants and boutiques.
But 175 years ago, the area inhabited in turn by Delaware (Miami) Indians, fur traders and Quakers was a small town named Bethlehem.
The city's founders established the first plat in town at the present-day intersection of Rangeline Road and Main Street. Today a community clock donated by the Carmel Rotary Club marks the spot.
The town officially incorporated as Carmel in 1874 upon discovering there was another town in Indiana named Bethlehem.
By 1900, Carmel had 498 residents, but the population skyrocketed sometime during the 1970s. Today the population is 81,534, but we discovered during a recent visit that the Arts and Design Center in the heart of Old Town Carmel retains much of its small-town charm.
The arts district runs several blocks along Main Street with unifying elements like brick building facades and walkways, but the most interesting features of the streetscaping for me were the life-size cast bronze and painted sculptures by artist John Seward Johnson II.
When I first spotted one of Johnson's statues perched on a park bench in front of a store, I had to look twice to see that it was a statue, rather than a real person!
Then it became a game to walk around town and see how many of them we could spot and photograph. I ended up with images of more than a dozen of Johnson's statues in Carmel.
The statues start as castings of living people of all ages engaged in a variety of everyday activities.
There are more than 250 of Johnson's life-sized figures around the country in museums, private collections and as public art placements.
Among my favorites in Carmel were a woman with several grocery bags outside of a butcher shop (where I also popped in to buy some Indiana-made pickles), a busker in front of the downtown music store and a police officer directing traffic at a major downtown intersection.
Carmel appears on many lists of desirable places to live, including placing first in the 2012 edition of CNN's Money magazine's list of best places to live. It's not surprising, then, that we saw many new condo and townhouse developments in progress in the area when we visited there late this fall.
Another distinguishing characteristic we noticed as we drove around Carmel was the unusually high number of roundabouts at the intersections. Carmel is the unofficial roundabout capital of America with more than 80 modern roundabouts replacing outdated traffic signals in recent years.
We're just beginning to see an increasing number of roundabouts in the Detroit area, and while highway officials say they are safer because they lessen the severity of accidents that do happen, many drivers here express frustration with learning to use them.
We talked to several local folks while we were in Carmel, and they said they found the roundabouts saved them time during their morning commutes as they seemed to keep traffic moving and alleviate gridlock.
The real issue with Carmel drivers seemed to be the new installation of many "Michigan lefts", a design that replaces standard left-turn lanes with a boulevard turnaround, followed by a right turn. We all grew up with the "Michigan left" here, but like the roundabouts here, the "Michigan left" induces confusion, frustration and angst in Indiana!
Look for more articles about Carmel and the rest of our Indiana visit over the next few months!
Want to learn more about Carmel, Indiana? Check out Carmel (Images of America) by Terri Horvath.
Thanks to the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau for sponsoring my visit to Hamilton County, providing lodging, meals and a tour of Hamilton County attractions for my review during my recent visit there, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2012 All rights reserved