The Flora Community Club in Carroll County won for its work to save the town’s 1908 railroad depot and repurpose it as a local history museum and tourism destination. Flora is a town of 2,100 located 25 miles northeast of Lafayette.
The Montpelier History Club, the brainchild of educator Ryan Ingram, won for its work to instill a love of local history in students from kindergarten through high school in Montpelier, a city of 1,500 located 45 miles south of Fort Wayne.
As winner of the youth-serving category, the Montpelier History Club receives $1,000, and organizational winner Flora Community Club receives $2,000. Both groups will receive an original sculpture “No Doors to Lock Out the Past” by late Evansville artist John McNaughton.
Established in 1976, the Sandi Servaas Memorial Award honors the dynamic spirit and contributions of former Indiana Landmarks staffer Sandi Servaas, who was working to raise public awareness and support for preservation before her untimely death in 1975.
In 2013, the club took on its biggest challenge to date: saving the town’s 1908 Vandalia Railroad Depot. A symbol of the era when railroads fueled the town of Flora, the depot served daily passenger and freight trains for 50 years before ending service. In 1969, the building was moved from its original location to South Sycamore Street, where it operated as a laundromat. In 2003, tragedy struck when a customer loaded gas-soaked clothes in a washer, sparking a fire that left the depot a charred wreck for the next decade.
With demolition looming, the club realized the time to act was “now or never.”
“That the Flora Community Club had no idea what it was doing when it committed to saving the depot is an understatement,” said Melissa Bishop, project chairman. “We may have gone into it not having any idea how it was going to turn out, but we did try very hard to make sure we were doing the right thing. This building was very important to the history of our town and the people who live here. We had lost a number of historic buildings through the years, and we hated to see one more thing go.”
Flora Main Street, a subgroup of the community club, received grants from Indiana Landmarks and the Carroll County Community Foundation to hire architect Dann Keiser to assess the building and create a phased plan for restoring it. Over the next nine years, the club raised $400,000 in grants and donations to reconstruct the depot on a site adjacent to the railroad tracks, where the building originally stood.
Workers salvaged as much of the damaged depot as possible and incorporated wood flooring and pendant lights rescued from another town landmark slated for demolition. The group contacted the Pennsylvania Railroad Archive to identify correct colors for the slate roof, sourced from Pennsylvania just like the original. The depot’s grand reopening as a local history museum and community space coincided with Flora’s sesquicentennial celebration last September. In January, the club hired its first full-time executive director to raise the profile of the town and the depot as a heritage tourism destination.
“It’s an ambitious vision,” added Bishop. “I think we sometimes forget what we’ve done, that this has been nine years in the making. We forget people outside of our community see this as important. Getting this recognition from Indiana Landmarks on a state level is humbling and we’re proud and can’t believe it happened to us.”
The club has also created several local history videos, including a series highlighting lost landmarks called Ghost Buildings of Montpelier. Students browse newspaper archives and visit the sites where the buildings stood.
“I want the kids to know where all of this was, to see Montpelier the way I saw it as a kid and instill a desire to protect what we have left,” said Ingram. “We have a saying that History Club is not just about being better historians but becoming better people. They learn etiquette and community pride, what it means to take care of each other and our community.”