County Profile: Shelby County

Posted on Jun 24 2024 in County

By Nicole Thomas

Shelby County is home to several of Central Indiana’s firsts, like St. Vincent DePaul, one of the first Catholic churches built in the area in 1839. Indiana’s first railroad, built in the 1830s, passed through the county’s seat, Shelbyville, to connect Madison — the largest city along the Ohio River — to Indianapolis.


Ovid Butler

Ovid Butler, the namesake of Butler University, studied law and practiced as an attorney in Shelby County from 1825 to 1836. An abolitionist and newspaper publisher, Butler was also a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which led him to want to establish a university founded on his Christian beliefs. The Indiana General Assembly approved his proposal for a new Christian university in Indianapolis, and North-Western Christian University opened in 1855. It was the second university in Indiana and third in the U.S. to admit both men and women. Butler served as the university’s president of its board of directors until 1871. The university changed its name to Butler University in 1877.


Metzler Woods
Photo courtesy of Central Indiana Land Trust

Meltzer Woods in Shelbyville is one of Indiana’s last remaining old-growth forests with trees over 150 years old. The woods are named after the Meltzer Family. John Meltzer originally purchased 160 acres of farmland in Shelby County in 1857. In 1920, his son, Brady, purchased an additional 120 acres. Forty-eight acres of the Meltzer’s farmland were never cleared, so Brady registered this land with Indiana’s Classified Forest program in 1928. The woods have been designated as a National Natural Landmark since 1973, recognizing the old-growth forest as an outstanding example of geological history in the United States. The woods feature small creeks, a mile-long hiking trail open year-round, and blooming wildflowers each spring.


Horeshoe Indianapolis
Photo courtesy of Lisa Andres

Horseshoe Indianapolis in Shelbyville hosts the state’s only live Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing. Previously known as Indiana Downs, the racetrack’s signature race is the Indiana Derby, a horse race held annually in July for three-year-old Thoroughbreds. American Thoroughbred racehorse Misremembered has held the 1-1/16-mile-long dirt racetrack’s speed record since 2009 at 1:40:80. The Indiana Derby welcomed American Thoroughbred racehorse Lookin At Lucky in 2010 as the first-ever Triple Crown winner to participate in an Indiana horse race. In 2023, 3,000 spectators attended the Indiana Derby’s 29th running.



NAMED FOR: General Isaac Shelby, the first governor of Kentucky


COUNTY SEAT: Shelbyville


NICOLE THOMAS is a freelance writer from Indianapolis.