Butler University in Greenfield - April 2012

The educational history in this city is plentiful. In future articles we’ll explore more of that history. In this article we’ll focus on what could have been a tremendous addition to that history.

 The City of Greenfield has worked very hard in recent years to establish secondary education to its citizens. And it’s made tremendous headway. But some may have forgotten that this work to land secondary education in Greenfield has been going on for quit some time.

We all know the story’s of Butler University. Most recently, with their Cinderella run the past several years in the NCAA basketball tournament and their famed Hinkle Fieldhouse and Clowes Hall. But can you imagine Butler University being located in Greenfield? That dream almost became reality.

 

 Butler University is a private liberal arts university located in the Butler-Tarkington area of Indianapolis. On November 1, 1855 the school opened its doors as North Western Christian University and was located at what is now 13th and College. It started with no president, 2 professors and 20 students.

Butler University at Irvington

 

In 1875, the university moved to a 25-acre campus in Irvington. It was there that the school was renamed Butler University when abolitionist and local attorney Ovid Butler fell in love with the idea of the university and financially set the foundation for the school.

The school remained at this location until 1922 and that is when Greenfield came into play. By this time the university was looking at expanding but did not have the room to do so at the Irvington sight so they began looking around for a more suitable location.

 One option the school was looking at was the Fairway Park location which was being offered by the city of Indianapolis, but the board wasn’t 100% satisfied with that location.

Ovid Butler

A July 13, 1922 article in the Daily Reporter wrote that the secretary of the Greenfield Civic League, J.W. Cory, met with Mrs. Curtis Hodges of the university the previous day and was offering an 80-acre site for the school to consider.

 Greenfield had several attractions to the university. Aside from being the home of James Whitcomb Riley, Leo Harris and other literary greats, its closeness to Indianapolis would give an advantage of the large city, without all of the dingy, crowded, noisy congested conditions. Along with a pleasant and quiet atmosphere made it a perfect place for scholastic work. These were all advantages that Greenfield had over the Fairview site.

 For years prior Greenfield had supported and aspired to Butler. A large percentage of graduates from the local schools continued their studies there. The local alumni of the school all heavily supported the idea of the school moving to Greenfield. The people of Irvington even felt that if the school has to be moved that Greenfield would be the best location. It was however nearly impossible for this little city to buck the capital in anything, unless Indianapolis was willing to just let it go. The weight of superior influence and the organization and financial ability, outweighs anything that Greenfield could offer.

Some people of the Irvington area even gave sentiments toward Greenfield and wanted to aid the city in procuring the university because they felt Indianapolis had treated them unfairly over the death and eventual resting place of James Whitcomb Riley.

Atherton Union

 

 The citizens of Greenfield began organizing efforts to launch a full campaign to secure Butler. A July 15, 1922 article in the Daily Reporter states that a meeting of officials of the Christian Church of Greenfield voted unanimously to petition the directors of Butler and ask them to refrain from selecting the old Fairview Park as the site for the college.

 They organized all of the Christian churches in the county to band together in the proposition of relocating the college. A five member committee was approved to lead the effort. Unfortunately their names were not listed in the article. Interestingly the committee was advised at that time not to take any steps in a proposal to locate the college here, but rather to use influence to postpone the selection of the Fairview site.

 In September 1922 the city of Columbus joined the race. Members of the Tabernacle Christian Church of Columbus moved to begin steps in obtaining the school. Columbus thought that since Butler is a Christian school they would showcase the fact that they have the largest and strongest Christian churches organization in the state.

 The next news of the situation came in October 1922 when Reverend Alan B. Philputt, a member of the board of directors for Butler College, assured those at their meeting of the Christian Ministers Association of Indianapolis that a decision as to the proposed removal of Butler from the Irvington area would be made soon. The Reverend did not indicate what the decision would be but indicated that the decision would be based on whom ever could provide the fullest opportunity to develop a bigger and better school. The announcement was to be made on January 18, 19 and 20 at the Downey Avenue Christian Church.

The citizens of Greenfield had given it their best shot to acquire the school. They had tapped all of the available resources of the community to convince the association Greenfield would be the best location. But by the January 18th meeting it simply wasn’t enough.

 In the end the board of trustees chose the Fairview Park site. The fact that there was 246 acres at the site gave them plenty of room to grow the college to the level that they wanted. The final agreed purchase price was $200,000 and payment would be broken up over a ten year period which helped on the financial end of things.

 William G. Irwin, chairman of Butler endowment fund, began raising money for the construction of administration buildings and establishing a $1,500,000 endowment fund for their maintenance of the property.

Hinkle Fieldhouse

 

George Kessler, of St. Louis, was selected as the architect. Mr. Kessler had just recently designed the sunken gardens at Garfield Park.

 The college officially moved to the new location in 1928. The campus consisted of 31 buildings, including one of the most historic gymnasiums of all time in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

 The newspaper never mentioned exactly where the 80 acres were located.

It’s hard to imagine what Greenfield or Butler University would have been like today had the two joined forces. But I say it’s safe to say that Greenfield would have made Butler everything that it is today and possibly more.

 

By Greg Roland

More Greenfield History