Mayor John Barton, 43rd Mayor of Indianapolis
Barton was born in 1906 and graduated from Cathedral High School. He earned an engineering degree from Purdue University. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and later joined the Indiana State Police. He left the State Police and worked for a manufacturing company for several years until 1961, when new Gov. Matthew Welsh appointed him as Superintendent of the Indiana State Police.
Two years later, he parlayed his high profile position and a stellar reputation into politics. Although he was a novice candidate, he won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Indianapolis and was elected as Indianapolis’ 43rd mayor in 1963. He defeated Republican Clarence Drayer and independent candidate Samuel Unger to make him the last Democratic mayor until 2000. As a former police officer, Barton paid close attention to the Indianapolis Police Department and sought to rehabilitate and reform the department, which had been suffering from a recent series of bribery charges involving at least 27 officers.
His administration also reactivated the Indianapolis Housing Agency, which had been disbanded a few years earlier, and broke from several of his predecessors and sought federal money for housing projects. By the end of his term, he had secured close to 3,000 new housing units. One of his priorities was finding funding for housing for those who were displaced by the new interstate systems built throughout the city in the 1950s and 1960s. He also sought to increase federal money for all type of efforts in the city. He also promoted the development of what would become Eagle Creek Park, the downtown Convention Center, and the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University.
He also is remembered for creating the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the panel of city leaders that developed many of the city’s great ideas and projects. He was defeated in 1967 after only one term, by Republican Richard Lugar, which many viewed as a protest vote against then President Lyndon Johnson.
Barton served in one more public position, as a member of the Indiana Parole Board, when Gov. Roger Branigin appointed him in 1968. He served on the board until 1989. Barton died in 2004.
Photos courtesy of Ryan Hamlett.