Carmel Clay Historical Society Plans New Museum and Expansion

February 2021

The Carmel Clay Historical Society [CCHS] is in the midst of planning a $6.7 million expansion and new museum. I spoke with Dan McFeely, CCHS board president and a City of Carmel spokesperson, about the new forthcoming archives building and expansion details that have been in discussion for nearly a decade. The plan is coming to fruition with the highly anticipated groundbreaking this spring.

A Brief History of the Monon Depot and CCHS

The historic Monon Depot—built in 1883 by the Monon Railroad—once served as a passenger station and freight depot. Today, it houses the Carmel Clay Historical Society (CCHS) and serves as a museum of local history. CCHS was formed in 1975 by a group of dedicated local residents who understood the importance of preserving the history of Carmel and Clay Township.

Carmel Clay Historical Society

CCHS’s mission is to encourage an appreciation for and understanding of the settlement, growth and development of the city of Carmel and Clay Township, bringing historical relevance, context and enrichment to the lives of its citizens and visitors. The CCHS fulfills its mission by providing educational services such as public programs, tours of the Monon Railroad Depot Museum, curriculum materials to schools on local and county history, maintaining archives and artifacts and many more services that will be expanded upon with the completion of the new building.

Planning for Carmel’s Future While Preserving Its Past

According to McFeely, CCHS has been looking at replacing the archive building for more than 10 years. The current archive building is the little house that is located right next to the Depot.

“It’s not been in good shape, and over the last couple of years, we’ve moved everything out into temporary storage,” McFeely shared. “With the expansion of the Monon Trail, we got our heads together and decided that the best thing to do would be build a museum with display areas for exhibits, spaces for our archives and spaces to accommodate small groups, including a rooftop garden.”

In addition to those aforementioned amenities, McFeely added that CCHS is planning on having an area on the first floor where they can host events and major announcements, and a possible coffee shop and gift shop as well. Public restrooms will be available and an information booth—all easily accessible—for those passing through the city or for those stopping in off the Monon Trail.

“We think the building will be three stories, and we are going to develop a rooftop garden that we can use for our events but also make available for community groups or that the public can rent out for private receptions and things like that,” McFeely said. “That would become revenue that CCHS would need to help run the building. In terms of our educational programming, we’ve always been involved with education, and it runs the gamut of all age groups. But, specifically for our elementary grade school kids, when they study Indiana history, part of their curriculum is to pay a visit to the Monon Depot, and one of our volunteers walks them around downtown and talks with them about the history of the community.”

Carmel Clay Historical Society
Dan McFeely: CCHS board president

McFeely further shared that CCHS has included in the plans a basement level that will serve as additional archive storage space as well as a place for possible future interactive exhibits for kids to learn and experiment. The upper floors will serve as archive storage space, meeting spaces and work areas for researchers to comb through the literal and figurative pages of our city’s history.

As part of the expansion and new construction plan, the Monon Depot will continue to serve the Carmel community and will be a permanent exhibit on the history of the Monon and trains.

McFeely added, “Anyone who’s a toy train enthusiast is going to love this. We’ve got all kinds of ideas in our minds, and we’re going to make it just one of many cool experiences for people.”

Funding the Expansion

Clay Township Board has approved a $4.3 million grant for the new building, and Mayor Jim Brainard has earmarked $2.4 million in bonds toward the construction of the expansion project.

“I can’t say enough about Doug Callahan [Clay Township Trustee] and the Township who came through with that grant,” McFeely expressed. “I also can’t say enough about the township’s generosity and especially the hard work and many hours that Matt Snyder [Clay Township Secretary] has put into this project. The Historical Society is truly blessed to have supporters like this.”

McFeely continued, “The Township has been really wonderful with this first grant, and of course the mayor with his support. And hopefully, with the council’s support as well, we will get this thing built over the course of this year and completed by next year.”

Going forward, CCHS will be speaking with existing donors and is developing fundraising opportunities to raise additional capital—not for the construction of the building but to establish an endowment for CCHS.

“We’re putting together a special committee because there are going to be so many [fundraising] opportunities,” McFeely stated. “We would like to give people the opportunity to have a room or some other element of the building named after them. The key for CCHS is to create an endowment that will help us maintain and operate the building for the next 100 years.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Carmel Clay Historical Society and/or are interested in volunteering or donating to CCHS, please visit carmelclayhistory.org.