Celebrating 132 Years of Carmel History at 321 First Avenue SE
I recently was transported back into time and got a peek at several bygone eras at the extraordinary home of Amy and Derek Van Ostrand-Fakehany, located at 321 First Avenue Southeast, “Lot 9” in Old Town Carmel, Indiana. Amy and Derek shared highlights of the home’s 132 years of history and their passion for collecting and documenting everything from the various deeds to the intimate stories of the people that lived and died in their home.
As one of the few remaining original homesteads amongst Carmel’s rapid redevelopment, 321 First Avenue Southeast is one of less than 50 houses in Old Town Carmel that were built in or before 1920. Both Amy and Derek are committed to the preservation of their home and to helping current and future residents understand—and respect—the people who once lived there and contributed chapters to the pages of Carmel’s history.
Developing a Passion for Preservation
The story begins with Amy and Derek buying their first home—321 First Avenue Southeast—in 2000. Amy had finished law school when they moved to Carmel for a job Amy had accepted. They had been looking for an older home and had considered the Irvington area when Amy spotted their current home while driving back and forth to the Carmel Clay Public Library, studying for the bar exam.
“There was something about this house,” Amy recollected. “I just felt obsessed with this house. We told our real estate agent that we wanted her to show us this house if it ever went on the market. And what do you know, in the summer of 2000, [the house] was on the market. We walked in the front door and stood in the living room, and it was a done deal.”
A Brief Overview of the Home’s History
The property that the well-preserved farmhouse sits on, once known as “Lot 9,” was one of 12 lots called “The John A. Phelps Addition.” Phelps built the house in 1889, per the Carmel Historical Society’s 1987 Historic Walking Tour.
Carmel then was known as “Bethlehem,” and Phelps was one of its founders.
Amy and Derek’s house has been owned by 13 families and one funeral home—Farley Cemetery Association (1934–36). After John Phelps died, he left his entire estate to his sister, Emma Phelps, who owned the house from 1900–12.
“Emma [Phelps] was the very first female owner of our house,” Amy stated. “She was also Hamilton County’s first female farmer. We found so many newspaper articles about her. She was way ahead of her time.”
Former business owners Calvin “Cal” and Elsa Brown owned the house from 1912 until 1924. They owned a restaurant/shop on the site on which Muldoon’s now stands.
“We found an article about Calvin and Elsa Brown,” Amy said. “They were movers and shakers in Carmel. We found stories about them operating their business, and the Carmel Clay Historical Society has great information on their business that was called Cal’s Place.”
The home’s next owners were Bert and Ella Hoover, who owned the house from 1924–34. Bert was a World War I veteran, and his wife was an accomplished baker who won several prizes for her white layer cake. The Hoover’s three daughters sang in The Hoover Trio.
Unfortunate victims of the Great Depression fallout, the Hoovers fell behind on their mortgage payments to Citizens State Bank and were foreclosed upon in 1934. The Farley Cemetery Association purchased the home at a Sheriff’s Sale that same December.
When asked about having knowledge that their home once operated as a funeral parlor, Amy said, “I really appreciate the notion that people found comfort in a really painful time in their lives within these walls. It’s never bothered me in the least. It adds to the layers of what the house has been witness to. It has witnessed joy, heartache, the end of life, the beginning of life and all the mundane things that happen in between that make life … life.”
The property’s deed changed hands once again in 1936. William and Elizabeth Smith lived in the home from 1936 until 1960. Their son, William, lived in the home for a period of time, and their daughter, Betty Jo, lived in the home until she married at the age of 23. Betty Jo contracted scarlet fever and was quarantined within the home—an experience Amy and Derek can empathize with as they have been homebound, prior to the COVID pandemic, due to Derek’s cancer diagnosis and recovery. I am thrilled to report that at the time of publishing, Derek is still in remission.
The couple has developed a special connection to Betty Jo and her family and has befriended the Smith’s grandchildren, who are Betty Jo’s children. The grandchildren have shared a wealth of personal details and photos of their family’s time as owners of the house. One particular favorite of Amy and Derek’s is an image of Betty Jo’s wedding to Dr. Gilbert Rhine in 1949. The couple was wed in the living room, and the photo captures the newlyweds sharing a piece of wedding cake in the stairwell in the kitchen and dining area. The patriarch of the family, William, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the living room after a long day of working on his farm in 1951. His widow, Elizabeth, lived in the home until 1960.
From 1960 until 1970, Cedric and Georgia Hobbs occupied the home. The house caught fire the night before they were to move in. The house suffered major damage but was restored. Cedric, a World War I veteran, grew up in Carmel and played on a 1920s basketball team. Cedric ran for Clay Township Trustee but lost his run for political office.
In 1970, David and Mary Beck bought the home as 20-year-old newlyweds. Mary gave birth to Jon in 1971.
“The Becks still live in Carmel,” Amy shared. “They came over with a ton of photographs, including one of their infant son, Jon, splashing around in the sink in our kitchen and of him crawling up the stairs. I think about the transition of a wedding in 1949, an infant boy climbing up the stairs in the 1970s and of Derek and I—in 2021—going up and down those same steps. It’s 100 years of people using this stairwell.”
Pearl Thomas was the home’s next occupant, and she lived in the home for less than six months in 1973. She made improvements to the home only to sell it shortly thereafter. The home was sold to James and Alice Fisler, who owned the home until 1982. James served in World War II and was a hospital administrator. His wife, Alice, was a nurse and was featured in the newspaper for her “Lucious Lemon Pie” recipe.
In 1986, the home was sold to Michael and Krista Anderson, who owned the house until 1986. In lieu of a honeymoon, the Andersons—who had just married days before—bought the home. Amy and Derek have become friends with the Andersons as well.
From 1986 until 1999, Nancy Werner was the proud owner of the house in which she lived with her son, William (“Bill”) and her elderly parents. Nancy’s father passed away peacefully in the sitting room. Nancy has provided Amy and Derek with a plethora of photos of the home, documenting its existence in the 1980s.
And the last homeowner to live in the house prior to Amy and Derek is Ann Marie Kleyle, who owned the house from 1999 until Aug. 31, 2000. Having made friends with Ann Marie, Amy and Derek have enjoyed visits with Ann Marie at their house, along with many of the former residents and or their descendants since purchasing the house.
Developing a Passion for Research and Preservation
While confined to their home throughout Derek’s recovery and the pandemic, the couple has enjoyed embarking on this journey of discovery and fact-finding as well as forming long-lasting bonds with former owners and their next of kin.
“It’s been really neat researching these people and finding from their obituaries their descendants,” Derek shared. “We’ve reached out to many of them, and it’s been surprising how many of them have been like, ‘We’ll tell you about the house and about our parents,’ and they share these stories that have very helpful [to our research].”
The couple has put countless hours into their research efforts, and Amy has documented about 50 hours of quality time at the Hamilton County Recorder’s Office going through countless books and is proud to say that they have every single deed to their house.
“We literally printed out every deed with signatures,” Amy said. “It gives me goosebumps when I look at the signatures [of the previous owners] and think that the day that they signed these, they were filled with all the same hopes and excitement that we felt on Aug. 30, 1999, when we signed to buy this house and became part of the home’s story.”