Where We’ve Been: The History of Butler, Indiana

NOTE: This is a revised historical section from the 2001 City of Butler Comprehensive Plan. Significant Butler events since 2001 have been added.  It is subject to further revision based on your feedback.

The first settlers in the Butler / DeKalb County area secured land in 1836 and came mostly from middle and eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Charles Norris bought and platted a small area, now known as the Norris Addition in the late 1830s.  This area is in the southwestern quadrant of what is now the City of Butler.  The Original Plat soon followed, as did the construction of a schoolhouse, sawmill, and dwellings.  By 1856, “Norristown,” as it was known, had a population of about 40, a dozen stores, and a line of the Michigan and Southern Railroad through town.  The small community was called Norristown, Jarvis, Butler Station, and Butler between 1850 and 1866.  In 1866, the community was incorporated as “Butler” and governed by Township Trustees.

Sanborn-Perris Plat Map of Butler, Indiana – September 1890

1897 Sanborn Sheet 3
Sanborn-Perris Plat of Butler, Indiana – October 1897 – Sheet 3

A second set of tracks was completed in 1873 by the Eel River Railroad Company from Logansport.  The Wabash Railroad Company leased the tracks in 1880 and extended the rail line to Detroit, establishing its division point in Butler and resulting in the largest population boom in the Town’s history.


The presence of the railroad proved vital to Butler’s growth in the late 19th century.  Between 1880 and 1890, Butler’s population grew from 1,200 to 2,800.  Factories, as well as retail businesses, prospered in Butler in the mid-1880s.   The boom did not last long; in 1893 the Wabash Railroad Company divided the Butler division point between Ashley, Indiana and Montpelier, Ohio.  Butler’s population diminished as quickly as it had grown.


In 1903, Butler became a “City” and installed a public sewer system.  By 1910, the community was paving streets.  The small city experienced gradual growth, paving streets and providing public utility service for lights, water, and sidewalks to its residents.   In 1933, the City of Butler reverted to the “Town of Butler” because of new population requirements then set by the State of Indiana.

Butler Carnegie Library

The 1950’s saw significant industrial growth, starting with Universal Tool and Stamping Company’s move to Butler.  Universal Tool was soon followed by Federal Fertilizer  Company in 1950; Hendrickson Tandem in 1953; Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company in 1957; Crane Edmund Corporation in 1959; and Commercial Shearing and Stamping  Company in 1962.

In 1956 Butler once again became a City due to another change in State law.  New housing development was fairly consistent as several new subdivision plats were established and developed between 1952 to 1996.

Therma-Tru site in Butler

Eastern DeKalb County saw a resurgence of industrial growth in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.  Steel Dynamics, Incorporated (SDI) built a steel mini-mill on 750 acres four miles southwest of Butler.  The State of Indiana constructed a vehicular overpass over US Highway 6 and the railroad tracks to accommodate the truck traffic generated by SDI and its related adjoining industries.  That road was turned over to DeKalb County for maintenance and is now known as County Road 61.    The area adjoining Steel Dynamics has grown into a major steel and metals producing area.  This area is served by a force sanitary main extending from Butler to the SDI complex.

A new Butler – Wilmington Township Fire Station was constructed in 2011 near the County 61 overpass over U.S. 6.  The Thompson Block building was renovated for use as the Butler City Hall in 2012.  The former Butler City Building / Fire Station was renovated for use by the Butler Police Department in 2016.

Renovated former Butler City Building, 120 West Main Street.
Now used by the Butler Police Department

A major downtown fire in 2018 destroyed two storefronts. The buildings were subsequently demolished.

Also in 2018, the Butler Redevelopment Commission completed a demolition project on the west side of the 100-block of South Broadway.


Do you have any interesting bits of Butler history that you think should be added to this portion of the new comprehensive plan?  You are welcome to submit your ideas and comments via our Comments form.

We appreciate your participation and input.

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