HETRICK: In Pendleton, living the good life on the edge of an edge city

Several years ago, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard introduced me to a concept called “edge city.”

The term, I’d later learn, was first coined by author and former Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau to describe places like, well, Carmel—suburban centers where people live, work, shop and play on the edge of bigger cities, such as Indianapolis.

If Carmel epitomizes edge city in central Indiana, then I’m now living on the edge of the edge.

As of this month, when two moving trucks and assorted delivery vehicles unloaded old stuff and new at our home in historic Pendleton, my wife and I are officially denizens of small-town America. Think: exurbia in excelsis Deo. The outer edge of not-so-edgy places called Fishers and Noblesville.

Our new home is an island.

Its five acres are lined by a wooden fence worthy of a Kentucky horse farm.

The tall wooden gate would fit the front entrance of a Wyoming ranch.

The long driveway that winds its way to our house and barn smacks of your favorite Brown County lane (minus the scenic overlooks, of course).

And the trees! By the scores, the oaks, maples and sycamores tower over the place, while the pines provide year-round privacy and greenery.

Then there’s the front walk, crafted from river rock and surrounded by tulips, irises and other lush landscaping. On either side, stone paths wind their way through the gardens. It’s like walking up a Smoky Mountains streambed lined by wildflowers.

The town of Pendleton is picturesque, too.

In the small downtown (there are two, count ’em, two stoplights!), we’ve tried out 1820 Pizza (named for the year Pendleton was founded), the high-end restaurant (Puzzles) and the wine bar/brew pub (The Stable) that recently featured the band The Why Store.

We’ve also become semi-regulars at the Mexican place, the Chinese carryout joint, the diner, the doughnut shop and the hardware store.

Small-town service is exceptional, too.

When we went to the license branch last week—during lunch hour, no less—the two of us were greeted by all three available employees. That’s quite a change from the jam-packed branches we encountered in Indianapolis.

Walking along the main street in downtown Pendleton, we learned from a shopkeeper about an artists’ association that’s gaining steam. It seems they want to turn the place into a creative colony.

And on the website of the Pendleton Business Association, we learned one reason (besides architecture and a waterfall) the town is considered historic.

Back in 1824, says the site, “a Native American family was murdered by five white men several miles east of Pendleton. Four of the five men were found and brought to justice. … Of those, three were sentenced to death and hanged within sight of the falls. It was the first time in the history of the United States that whites received capital punishment for the murder of Native Americans.”

Murder: shameful. Justice for all: right on.

But make no mistake, despite the long community history and scenic personal surroundings, we live on the edge.

Across the street from our little retreat, there’s a new middle school and a long-established high school that’s home to the Pendleton Heights Arabians.

Some nights, the stadium lights shine bright and the announcer tells us over the loudspeaker who’s won the 440 relay or who scored a run in the seventh inning.

A half mile away, there are strip malls and outlots with a big Marsh grocery, fast-food places, gas stations and other retailers.

The farm field next door to us is listed with a commercial broker—allegedly for a community of senior-citizen duplexes (but, hey, after we win Powerball and buy the land, that’s not gonna happen!)

In the biggest sign of all that we’re living on the edge, we’re watching out our back deck as construction crews build Madison County’s first roundabout, a $1.3 million me-too memorial to my friend, the champion of edge cities and the king of roundabouts himself, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard.

Now, I realize this isn’t the edgy stuff of the FBI raiding city hall, or public officials ripping off taxpayers with bribes and kickbacks, or elected representatives getting shipped off to prison for peddling the public trust, or shootings and stabbings that lead the local news, or middle-of-the-night sirens as ambulances race to level-one trauma centers, or panhandlers hitting folks up for cash at street corners and convenience stores, or any of the other things I already miss about Indianapolis.

But 20 miles away, I can feel it happening: The suburbs want to be edge cities and the exurbs want to be suburbs.

I think I’ll close the gate now, walk up the drive, and hide on the island.•


Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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