Sisters Cities: Butler, New Jersey, Meet Butler, Indiana

By Steve Sears

For Michael Hartman, first-time Mayor in the city of Butler, Indiana, year number one has been challenging. “I knew it was going to be busy, owning two businesses anyway, but I’m the type of person that doesn’t complain too much, and if I do complain too much, I jump in and do something about it. That’s what kind of got me involved (with running for mayor).” 

Hartman was involved in what was believed to be the city’s first Republican primary featuring three candidates, and he ran unopposed in the November 2019 election for Mayor. He has been a Butler resident since 1977 and is a 1984 graduate of Eastside High School.  He owns the NAPA Auto Parts store in the city and has owned a neighboring town auto body shop since 1982.

The city of 2,700 people, almost 5,000 people less than Butler in Morris County, has a few upcoming, unofficial anniversaries. Founded in 1841, it will be 170 years old in 2021, and Butler was incorporated as a town 125 years ago in 1866. It became a city in 1903. 

Butler, New Jersey also has a history. It was incorporated as a borough on March 13, 1901, and is named after Richard Butler, who had assumed ownership of the location’s Hard Rubber Company 20 years earlier. Butler, Indiana may have been named after pioneer David Butler.

Unlike the Hometown News area Butler, where drivers must ascend steep Route 23 and drive down into the main part of town via Bartholdi Avenue, the midwestern sister city is a flat land, U.S. Highways 1 and 6 crossing in the main center of town. Industry, some of them mainstays, are big in the city, and the Downtown Butler Historic District was named in 2001 to the National Register of Historic Places.

Butler, which is located in DeKalb County, is trying to revive that downtown. “We have about 10 businesses in town, to be honest with you,” says Hartman. “We have several downtown buildings that are vacant at this point, but I think we are progressing. Two of our buildings have been bought in the past 30 days, so we’re seeing a little bit of movement.”

Regarding business, Hartman says the city is very heavily into manufacturing. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of Steel Dynamics, a world-renowned steel mill. It was built back in the 90s and they just picked little bitty old Butler and they put up a massive steel mill complex, and they’ve had a lot of factories come in and feed off of them.”

The railroad system has always figured prominently in both towns. In 1871, the New Jersey Midland Railroad extended track for freight and passenger through Butler, New Jersey, and until 1966 the northern part of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway’s passenger service was located in Butler. Freight still travels through Butler, New Jersey, and in Butler, Indiana, the railroad runs through just about the center and south western portions of the city.

Hartman is quick to mention the parks in Butler, seven to be exact, and children in town attend one of three schools, Butler or Riverdale Elementary, and Eastside Junior-Senior High School. “Our school systems are outstanding. In fact, our school districts now, instead of doing eLearning – eLearning doesn’t seem the way to go any more – were going to do remote learning. They bought this thing called SwivL, basically a computer screen on somewhat of a robot, and turns 360 degrees and follows the teacher around so the kids are going to have to sign onto the computer just like if they were sitting in the classroom. They can interact with the teacher, hear the other students ask questions, so they’re going to be actually in a live classroom.”

“The school system, is kind of leading the way around here in technology, and kind of working through this.”

Butler, Indiana has been a busy place. In addition to Hartman’s inaugural 7 months, come the end of August, 4 out of 5 of city council members will be brand new, a new a police chief and a new code enforcement officer were appointed in May, and a new street superintendent came on board in January. “And we lost our GIS Coordinator,” says Hartman. “Yeah, these first 7 months – and if you throw COVID on top of that – it’s been very challenging.”  

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