Education has always been a vital part of the Carmel community. It began with the Quaker pioneers. One of the first aspects of any community building was the addition of space to be used for educating children. This was and is a basic belief of the Quaker. The instructional space might be in a home, a church, or a community hall, but wherever located, the purpose was the same--education. The pioneers of Carmel established that heritage for the community, and it has continued with pride to this day.
The region including what is now Carmel entered recorded history in the 1670s when the first Europeans arrived and claimed the territory for the Kingdom of France. At the conclusion of the French and Indian War and after one hundred years of French rule, the region was claimed by Britain for twenty years. After the British defeat in the American Revolutionary War, the entire trans-Allegheny region, including what is now Indiana, was ceded to the United States.
The United States government divided the trans-Allegheny region into several new territories. The largest of these was the Northwest Territory, which was progressively divided into several smaller territories by the United States Congress. In 1800, the Indiana Territory was the first new territory established from a portion of the Northwest Territory.
As settlers came west, the area around what was to become Carmel was transformed from a wilderness to a farming community. Most of the settlers coming and staying in the area were Quakers of English and Irish descent. That the majority were Quakers may in large part have been the doing of a native American named Meshekinoqua.
Meshekinoqua, or Little Turtle, was the son of Acquenacque and a war chief among the Miamis. He led his followers in several battles against the United States in the 1790s--most notably at the Battle of the Maumee, the Battle of the Wabash, and the Battle of Fallen Timbers--but later was an advocate for peace with the United States in the years leading up to the War of 1812. In 1802 during a trip to Washington, Little Turtle extended an invitation to the Baltimore area Quakers to visit Indiana and teach the Miami about white civilization and European farming methods. The Quakers sent the first missionaries, along with a farmer and a blacksmith, in the Spring of 1804.
When the State of Indiana was admitted to the Union in December of 1816, much of the land within its boundaries was still owned by native tribes. Central Indiana was acquired by the United States with the Treaty of St. Mary's in 1818.
In 1822, William Conner--an early white settler--and others applied for a charter authorizing them to become a separate and independent county under Indiana law. The application was approved by the Governor in January 1823 and took effect in April 1823. The new county was named after Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
Other Quaker settlers followed the first missionaries, many coming to the new state for the purpose of self-expression in the matter of slavery. They were bitterly opposed to slave holding, especially the sale of children. Hamilton County was chosen by the Quakers for settlement.
The group met in homes for a few years, then the number increased to the point that a church became necessary. The church was organized under the supervision of Fairland Monthly Meeting in 1830.
In 1833, the Meeting under the clerkship of Jonathan Phelps was named Richland, in memory of the home meeting of Benjamin Mendenhall, an early settler in the area, who came from Ohio. In the same year a one room log meeting house, 18-feet by 20-feet, was built on a hill on or near the site of the Carmel Cemetery on the east edge of North Rangeline Road at Eighth Street, and a school was started in the meeting house. Teachers at the school were Quaker members of Richland Meeting, but the school was open to all citizens in the area. Two years later another room of the same size was added, doubling the size of the log building which was called Richland School.
On April 13, 1837, Jonathan Phelps, Alexander Mills, Seth Green, and Daniel Warren laid out the Town of Bethlehem. The original plat contained a total of fourteen lots.
At about that same time, Richland school was replaced by a larger log structure on the northwest corner of Rangeline and Smoky Row roads. In 1845, a wood frame school building was constructed at the crossroads of Rangeline Road and 146th Street and was used for just over twenty years until the Carmel Academy was built.
In 1846, a town post office was established and it was discovered that there was already a community by the name of Bethlehem in Indiana. To avoid confusion it was necessary for the town to adopt a new name. Carmel--another biblical name--was chosen by the primarily Quaker and Methodist residents.
In 1867, an all-brick Carmel Academy was built on the southeast corner of Rangeline Road and Smoky Row Road; but by 1887 the community warranted a larger structure and the cornerstone of the first Carmel High School was laid on Sept. 23, 1887, on a small hill located on the east side of Rangeline Road between what were then called Willard Street and Park Street and are now known as Fourth Street SE and Fifth Street SE. This two-story brick structure would house grades one through ten with no frills, just classrooms. Because the town of Carmel was situated on the boundary separating Clay and Delaware townships, the school was administered jointly by trustees of the two townships.
The new Carmel High School was opened in 1888, with the first class graduating in 1890. Those first six graduates were Harry Symons, Frank Moffitt, Luther Haines, Edwin Farlow, Charles Hunt, and Clinton Reynolds. By the turn of the 20th-century the curriculum had grown to three, then four years, and the first class to have four years of education was graduated in 1901.
Throughout most of the 19th Century, education in Hamilton County--as in most of the nation--had been provided by public schools for the elementary grades and private academies for post-eighth grade education. In 1901, the editor of the first Carmel school yearbook wrote:
Carmel Schools have always been progressive and are still abreast of the times. The course in High School was lengthened to four years last year and there now remains but one more step to place the Carmel High School on equal footing with the best schools of the state--to get commissioned. By this we mean to get authority from the State Board of Education to grant diplomas which shall admit the bearer to all the leading Colleges and Universities of the State without examination. To obtain this commission the school must be supported for the period of eight months each year on public money. This will do away with the expense of tuition in the Spring term and prevent many from dropping out of school during this term.
The State Board has seen fit to promise us a commission to begin with the next year if we can assure them that the school will be run on public money. The trustees have promised us public support next year so that anyone who thinks of entering high school next year will do well to come to Carmel.
In 1921, land was purchased on the east side of Carmel and a new high school was designed to house grades one through twelve. The new school opened in 1923, replacing the 1887 building on Carmel’s south side. Situated on the northeast corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue NE, the new facility sported a gymnasium, a library, and a 600-seat auditorium in addition to classrooms, offices, and other facilities.
The first issue of the Hi-Lite, the Carmel High School newspaper, was printed in 1935. Until 1938, the actual printing was done at the Noblesville Daily Ledger. In the Spring of 1940 the Hi-Lite was printing an average of 170 copies monthly. By the Spring of 2011, the monthly print run had risen to 4,500.
The ongoing complications arising from the town of Carmel sitting astride the boundary [Rangeline Road] separating Clay and Delaware townships were finally resolved in August of 1955 when, as a result of a petition submitted to the General Assembly by the trustees of the two townships, the state moved the township boundary east to the White River. Once the town--Carmel--was all within one township--Clay--local citizens decided the community needed to organize a school district headed by a superintendent. Forest Stoops, the county superintendent, was hired and Carmel Clay Schools began in 1956.
In 1958, an entirely new Carmel High School building was opened at 520 East Main Street, just east of the 1921 building. Significant expansions and renovations to that facility were completed in 1961 and 1969.
WHJE, the Carmel High School radio station, began in August of 1963 broadcasting on 91.3-FM from an on-campus log cabin that fronted on Fourth Avenue NE behind the 1921 school building. The impetus for the school radio station--the brain child of then principal Earl F. Lemme--was the demise of the local newspaper, the Carmel Suburban and the subsequent perceived need for a media outlet that would focus on community events. In 1967, the station operation moved into the main high school building.
With a referendum in 1974, the citizens of Carmel voted to change their status from that of a town to that of a city.
Carmel High School’s first graduating class had consisted of six students in 1890. In the Spring of 1944 there had been twenty-eight student in the graduating class and in the Spring of 1963 there were 140 graduates. By the Spring of 1975 the number of graduates had increased to 521.
Additional expansions and renovations of Carmel High School took place in 1977 and 1999. In the fall of 1991, a new 6,000 seat Carmel High School football stadium complex--part of a larger multimillion dollar expansion project--had opened north of the school building and the old stadium between Rosalind Place and North Keystone Avenue just north of Smokey Row Road.
In 1995, the ninth grade freshman students had been moved from the junior highs (where they had been for years) to the high school and in 2005 the CHS Freshman Center was completed, adding another 182,000 square feet to the overall high school complex. The Carmel High School building currently sits on fifty-five acres of land and comprises twenty-two acres of enclosed space.
As of the 2016-17 school year, Carmel High School is a four-year comprehensive public high school with over 5,000 students in grades nine through twelve. The graduation rate averages around ninety-five percent.
Carmel High School is fully accredited by the Indiana Department of Education and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. The high school is part of the Carmel Clay Schools district and--along with three middle schools and eleven elementary schools-- continues to serve the city of Carmel and the township of Clay in southwestern Hamilton County, Indiana.