CARMEL, Ind. – It’s not that far away, just north of 96th Street on Ditch Road in Carmel. But when you get there, it’s easy to feel transported to someplace else, someplace magnificent.
The Asherwood Estate sits on 106 acres and is dominated by a main house that’s more then 50,000 square feet. Only a lucky few have ever stepped inside it.
The house was built as the private home of Mel and Bren Simon, part of the family that owns Simon Property Group and the Indiana Pacers. The Grand Entrance Hall sets the tone for the entire estate with its matching staircases and foyer that looks like something from the Gilded Age.
"I had never seen anything like it in my life," said Chris Lewis, the Executive Director of the Great American Songbook Foundation.
Chris Lewis is the de facto caretaker of Asherwood. His Great American Songbook Foundation is a non-profit group dedicated to preserving music history. He’s among those who control the destiny of maybe the grandest home in Indiana.
"I've jokingly referred to it as the Downtown Abbey of Carmel, because you feel like you're in an estate that's a living breathing thing of its own," said Lewis.
When Mel Simon passed away, his widow tried to sell the estate with no success. Then, rather unexpectedly, she donated Asherwood and most everything inside to the Great American Songbook. It was a gift worth an estimated $30 million.
You know, I was gob smacked, what do you say," said Lewis.
Once the shock wore off, Lewis and his foundation had to figure out what to do with the home. Nothing is certain yet, but the first idea is to make Asherwood into a museum for the foundation’s extensive collection of sheet music and memorabilia.
"Our first main question is to figure out if this is the museum. That is the most obvious direction to go, but we want to be thoughtful in that process," said Lewis.
As historic as it looks, Asherwood is actually less than 20 years old. Its history has yet to be written, but this once hidden gem could soon become a treasure that all Hoosiers may enjoy one day.