Butler celebrates heritage

The town that wouldn't drown

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

  In remembrance of approximately 400 families who lived in Old Butler during the completion of the Watauga Dam in 1948, Old Butler Days was celebrated Friday night and Saturday for families who had their houses moved, graves dug up and their lives completely displaced when 40,000 acres were flooded.
  For many, like Bud Honeycutt and his family, the move was hard, but he was fortunate -- his home still exists today.
  As a freshman at Watauga Academy High School in 1948, when the dam was completed, Honeycutt was more interested in basketball and baseball, but he can remember the impact it had on the older people. "People were dying like flies; it was too tough on them," said Honeycutt.
  Honeycutt's home stands erect on McQueen Street today, about 200 yards from the Butler Museum, which was built and dedicated to "the town that wouldn't drown." Approximately 250 other homes just like Honeycutt's were moved across the Watauga River to the new town of Butler, and still stand today.
  Some of the homes were moved by train, others by truck. Some were even floated across the river to their new destinations as far away as Elizabethton. Some of the people as well as structures did not make it, and lie on the bottom of Watauga Lake.
  During the 16th annual Old Butler Days celebration visitors watched performers, played games and had an opportunity to buy locally made crafts and apple butter.
  The Old Butler Express was tuned up and riding people through Butler to view the old homes. Constructed by folks at Shoun Lumber, the train has made its way around to many festivals including the Cranberry Festival, and has been present for years at Old Butler Days, according to Larry Shoun, president of the Ruritan Club.
  The Ruritan Club, a non-profit organization recognized nationally in 1970, is dedicated to helping preserve communities. The idea for Old Butler Days was stemmed off Trade Days in Johnson County. The members of the community feel it is a good way to bring the community together, and preserve the heritage of their town.
  "All proceeds collected at the festival will go back into the community," said Shoun. Projects like Butler Park and Easter egg hunts for the children are generated from Old Butler Days funds.
  The Butler Museum was constructed in 1999 on the property deeded to the Butler Ruritan Club and Watauga Academy Alumni Association by Selma "Babe" Curtis. The museum was dedicated to the preservation of memories of the original town.
  Curious newcomers can view artifacts of the old town, including artifacts from Indians and local businesses, and memorabilia of Watauga Academy High School which was donated by former residents and their heirs.
  When touring the museum there is evidence of how the town once lived, with remnants of the old post office, a Victorian parlor and the Blue Bird Tea Room. Photographs tell a story of an almost forgotten time and people who lived in Old Butler.
  Today, the people of Butler celebrate with pride their town that wouldn't drown. See Monday's edition of the Elizabethton Star for more pictures of Old Butler Days.