Places are kind of like people. They can be related to one another — sharing a border on a map — but no one place is truly like another one. Westfield is not just like Carmel. Noblesville is different from Cicero. This fact is just one way historical societies can be so fascinating.
Hamilton County is home to six historical societies and several other treasure troves of local history, and each destination offers its own unique stories to tell about a particular city, town or site.
Getting in touch with your own historical society can help you access all this local history and develop a richer relationship with your place in the world.
“What I think is fun about history is learning stories about normal, everyday people,” says Jessica Layman, president of the Hamilton County Historial Society and the county’s Bicentennial Coordinator. “Connecting someone from our past to your everyday life is so interesting.”
For example, in a photo from Wayne Township, two boys stand in front of a beat-up school bus holding foxes they must have caught or hunted. Through the image, you can begin to wonder about these boys’ lives and how they were different from today’s kids. What were their chores on what was likely a farm? What did they study and what tools did they use in the classroom? How did they catch those foxes?
By exploring these questions and ideas, we get out of our own worlds and into someone else’s.
“There’s always something new to learn. Because I do a lot of genealogy in my day job, it’s not just who married who. It’s also questions like, what were these people reading in the newspaper when their kids were born?” Layman is also a genealogy and local history librarian at Hamilton East Public Library.
Consider what made headlines during WWI compared to during our global pandemic. How do world events shape how we raise our children and who we are here in Hamilton County?
Knowing some history also allows you to look at your built environment through a more multifaceted lens. When you know how the landscape has changed over time — from forests to neighborhoods or farmland to highways — you see your home in a new way.
“It can lead to really interesting conversations as you just drive around your community, noticing things like where Carmel City Center is there used to be rows of corn,” Layman says.
And there are other things to love about history.
“There is so much cool stuff happening in Hamilton County that if you aren’t thinking about history already, it might not be at the front of your brain,” Layman says. Plus, with so many new people moving into the county, they might not know where to look for history-related information.
Your local historical society offers opportunities to educate yourself year-round. Each society is hyper-local, with a personality and focus reflecting its community and the experience of living there.
Stop by your local historical society! Layman offers a little insight into each one.
Hamilton County Historical Society
Located on the historic courthouse square in Noblesville, the Hamilton County Historical Society runs a museum inside the Sheriff’s Residence and Jail. Admission is free, with donations welcomed. There, find county history, history of law enforcement and some Noblesville history. The Hamilton County Historical Society also runs the Santa House each winter. You can become a member to help support the museum and get the newsletter. Visit here.
Sheridan Historical Society
Some people come to the Sheridan Historical Society just as much to visit with one another, maybe work on a puzzle together, as they do to learn about history. It’s almost like a community club, located right on Main Stree in Sheridan where revitalization is taking a front seat. Visit here.
Westfield Washington Historical Society
Services through the Westfield Washington Historical Society include monthly meetings, public and charitable education programs, and other events to encourage and celebrate local history. The organization manages a historical museum and recently completed the restoration of the Barker Family Log Cabin next to its property, which they share with Westfield City Hall. The group works to engage schools as they expand their footprint. Visit here.
Carmel Clay Historical Society
The Carmel Clay Historical Society will soon move from its longtime home inside the historic 1883 Monon Railroad Depot into the under-construction Carmel Clay History Museum. The 10,000-square-foot building will include space for galleries and exhibits, community meeting space, public restrooms, archives, a gift shop and a rooftop event area. The historical society offers education and engagement opportunities to the entire community. Visit here.
Fishers Historical Society
The Fishers Historical Society is a newer organization with the purpose of recording the history and maintaining the heritage of Fishers. It is working to evaluate the kinds of things to collect and share to serve the bustling city Fishers has become. Visit here.
Arcadia Historical Society
It’s hard to believe that in 1900, more people lived in small towns like Atlanta than in Carmel. To learn how a town can grow bigger and smaller over time, schedule a visit to the historic train depot in Arcadia, which used to have all the amenities of a bustling city. Visit here.
Other places to learn about local history:
Your local library! Hamilton East Public Library has staff with expertise to help you find just what you need.
All of the historical organizations in Hamilton County are working to share information more readily, so if someone is looking to get involved, get in touch with your local group and then keep an eye out for related events and programming.
The Hamilton County Bicentennial is proudly supported by Duke Energy, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Hamilton County Tourism Inc., and Hamilton County Historical Society.