Ovid Butler

Ovid Butler
(February 7, 1801 – July 12, 1881)

Best remembered for founding the university that now bears his name and lies just a little north of the cemetery, abolitionist Ovid Butler was another of Crown Hill Cemetery’s original board of incorporators. While his specific contributions to the development and management of the cemetery are not known, he served on the board from the beginning of Crown Hill in 1863 until his death 18 years later in 1881.

A native of Augusta, New York, Butler moved to Jennings County in 1817 before settling in Shelbyville, IN. He practiced law there from 1825 to 1836 before moving to Indianapolis to further his law career. His law partners included Calvin Fletcher, who was very important in the history of the cemetery; Simon Yandes, the son of another original board member; and Horatio Newcomb, the town’s second mayor. Butler left law entirely in 1849 after surviving a life-threatening illness, then went on to live another thirty-one years, possibly the most productive years of his life.

Butler was very active in political life as a member of the short-lived “Free Soil Party” that opposed the extension of slavery into the western territories. In 1848, he started the political newspaper, The Free Soil Banner, with the slogan, “Free Soil, Free States, Free Men.” As a Free Soil Party member, Butler made many anti-slavery speeches during the party’s brief existence from 1848-1852, before the party merged into the Republican Party.

Butler obtained a charter from the 1849-1850 Indiana State Legislature to establish a university in Indianapolis for the Disciples of Christ denomination. Five years after its development, North Western Christian University opened on the grounds of his extensive property called “Forest Home,” near present-day 13th Street and Park Avenue. The university’s charter called for a “non-sectarian institution free of the taint of slavery, offering instruction in every branch of liberal and professional education.” The university was the second in Indiana and the third in the United States to admit both men and women. Butler served as president of its board from 1851 until 1871, remaining active in its affairs until his death at age 80 in 1881. The university was named in his honor in 1877, about the time it moved to the Irvington area. In 1928, it was relocated to its current campus just north of Crown Hill.

Butler was married to Cordelia Cole from 1827 until her death in 1838, just three days before her 29th birthday. They had three small children at the time of her death. In 1840, Butler married Elizabeth McQuat Elgin, a young widow. She had one child with her first husband and seven children with Butler. Elizabeth died at age 63 in 1882, just a year after Ovid. Butler is buried between his wives and many other family members are buried on the lot.

Buried in Section 6, Lot 14; GPS (39.8199708, -86.1746097)