Lifelike statues, natural springs, and pioneer villages: 24 hours in Hamilton County, Indiana

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One of my favorite travel exercises is going to new places and discovering hidden treasures that I had no idea existed. A recent visit to Hamilton County, Indiana provided an opportunity to do just that.

From life-size people statues to an authentic pioneer village to a tribute to old-time American music, Hamilton County had a lot to pique my interest. Just see for yourself…

Life-size people statues in Carmel

The “Man on the Street” sculpture series in Carmel is one of the coolest public art displays in America. The collection of 14 life-size human statues can be found throughout the town’s Arts & Design District. The pieces provide endless photo opportunities, like the “Confirming Predictions” statue featuring a businessman reading the paper.

confirming-predictions-statue

Here’s one of my favorites, “Holding Out,” which depicts an older woman carrying groceries. It’s conveniently located outside a fish market. Look closely and you’ll notice something interesting: There’s a box of eggs resting vertically in her bag! Whoever bagged her groceries needs a good talking to.

holding-out-statue-closeup

Other noteworthy statues include a Carmel police officer and a father teaching his daughter how to ride a bike.

carmel indiana statues

The art was created by J. Seward Johnson Jr., who also did the giant Marilyn Monroe statue in Chicago. The realism on these statues is amazing. Check out the level of detail on these socks.

detail-on-socks-shoes

And this violin case full of dollar tips earned by a street performer.

case-for-spare-change

Interestingly, some locals aren’t too fond of the statues, claiming they’re eyesores and/or cost too much (around $80,000 each, for a total of more than $1 million.) But Carmel is one of the more affluent and fastest-growing towns in the state, so why not invest in some quirky art to liven up the city?

The squirrel statues are coming!

Historic accounts reveal that in the 1820s, around 100,000 Indiana squirrels suddenly decided they wanted to pack up and head to Ohio, so they stampeded across the state for two weeks, wreaking havoc on the cornfields in Hamilton County as they went. The reason for the migration isn’t certain, but deforestation may have caused the critters to seek new territory for food.

As a quirky way to commemorate the squirrel stampede, plans are in the works to create a handful of fiberglass squirrel statues to be placed all around the county. Right now, the prototype squirrel mold is on display at Noblesville’s Nickel Plate Arts gallery.

squirrel-statue-noblesville

A few folks think the idea of squirrel statues is nutty, but I think the concept is tree-mendous, even if they turn out to be the acorniest statues in Indiana.

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park

I’ve been to a number of pioneer villages that attempt to recreate life from the 1800s, including one in London, Ontario, but Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, Indiana stands out because of a very unusual attraction: A helium balloon ride 377 feet into the air.

conner prairie helium ballon

You may be wondering why such an element would be included in a historic park. It turns out that the balloon celebrates the first successful air mail balloon trip, which took off from Lafayette, Indiana in 1859. Pilot John Wise was headed to NYC but only made it 30 miles before having to abort. Still, he landed without crashing and the mail eventually reached its destination, so the trip was a success!

Conner Prairie’s balloon is helium rather than hot air, and it’s tethered to the ground for maximum safety. Visitors can climb inside and take a ride to the top. The 15-minute round-trip offers views of nearby farms, golf courses, and a distant view of the Indianapolis skyline.

conner prairie balloon pics

Some fun facts about the balloon: It’s been constantly inflated since 2009. During the year it loses only about 10% of its gas, which is added back at the end of each season. The balloon can hold about 30 people, and it requires calm weather (winds of less than 30 mph) to operate. Balloon riders can even dress up in era-appropriate clothing. A jolly good day to you, sir!

conner-prairie-oldtime-clot

Conner Prairie has a number of other fun elements, including a Civil War journey and a Prairietown set in 1836. They take the “interactive” part seriously here – the prairie village is full of folks dressed in 1800s garb who never break character as they explain what their lives are like to visitors.

conner prairie history park

Flowing Well Park

Forget bottled water – why not fill your containers with natural well water directly from the earth? Flowing Well Park in Carmel is an open-access artesian well that draws people from miles away who come for the free, clean H2O.

The well was discovered around 1900 when drillers looking for oil found gushing water instead. Score! It continues to pump out 15 gallons of water per minute.

flowing-well-park

Sadly, on the day of my visit the well wasn’t open to the public. City of Carmel Utilities tests the water to make sure it’s free of contaminants, and the readings weren’t satisfactory on this particular day. Missing out on the chance to fill my bottle with clean water straight from the ground was disappointing, but it was reassuring to know that the water is tested regularly. I must return sometime…

The Monon Greenway and Bub’s Burgers

Bicyclists in Hamilton County have easy access to Indy via the Monon Greenway and Monon Trail, which run for more than 15 miles and eventually hook up with the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in the city.

monon-trail

The trail passes right through the heart of Carmel, and while I wasn’t riding a bike on this hot day, I took the opportunity to have dinner at local hotspot Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream, where I could sit next to the trail and people watch as runners and bikers passed by.

Bub’s is known for its colossal sandwich known as The Big Ugly, a 22-ounce burger made from your choice of ground beef or elk. Since I had no prayer of even coming close to finishing such a behemoth, I went with the chili bowl and a banana milkshake instead. Good stuff!

bubs-burgers-milkshake

Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative

I covered the Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative in depth a couple weeks ago. The celebrated Grammy nominee’s homage to classic American music in Carmel features rotating exhibits and an archive of thousands of items, including aluminum records and original, hand-written song lyrics to standards like “Unchained Melody.” Any music fan should consider checking it out.

hot cool jazz

Note: I was a guest of Hamilton County Tourism.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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