August 2 , 2007 issue

Dive Into Old Butler Days August 10 to 11

Story by Lois Carol Wheatley

Babe Curtis was the piano teacher in Old Butler. She donated the property for a small town park where the Old Butler Days festival is held. Upon her death she bequeathed enough money to start the Old Butler Museum. Photo by Lois Carol WheatleyAbout half of the houses in Butler have a story behind them, a variation on a recurring theme about being hauled off a solid foundation in 1948 and deposited somewhat haphazardly on an abandoned farm when TVA closed the floodgates and created Watauga Lake.

Old Butler, now buried deep beneath a lake that covers 450 square miles, spans approximately 16 miles long, and has about 106 miles of shoreline, is gone but far from forgotten. Every year on the second weekend in August, former residents stage a celebration in memory of “the town that wouldn’t drown.”

Old Butler Days will be held Friday and Saturday, August 10 and 11, at Babe Curtis Park in Butler. And that’s another story just about as tragic as any of the others.

“Babe Curtis was our old piano teacher who lived in a big white house over here with beautiful old antiques,” said Anna Dugger, who runs the Old Butler Museum. “It being up here away from everything, someone robbed it of the antiques and set it on fire and burned it down. So she gave the Watauga Academy alumni and the Butler Ruritan this piece of property. It’s 4.3 acres, and when she died she left us $20,000. And that is how we started the museum.”

Not long after that, Old Butler Days got its start in this little town park—its mission to recapture that bygone sense of community, the lost art of keeping a pack of kids hugely amused, and the vanishing concepts of relaxing, chowing down, listening to music and competing in a variety of games and contests.

During the festival, the fire department will run the Butler train—three or four cars dragged around by a riding lawn mower—and for a lot of kids it doesn’t get any better than that. “You’ll be surprised how many kids ride that all around Butler during Old Butler Days,” said Harry Pierce, formerly of Piercetown—another small town lost under Watauga Lake’s pristine waters—and a Butler Ruritan festival organizer.

The festivities kick off on Friday, August 10, at 3:30. By that time the National Guard’s rock climbing wall will be up, the horseshoes will be ready to pitch, free face painting will be well underway and the Ruritans will be serving up their barbeque, hamburgers, hotdogs, funnel cakes, ice cream and French fries.

From 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. Bill McCall & Southern Country will play bluegrass and country music while kids of all ages play bingo and compete in the Twist Contest and the Hula-Hoop Contest.

Raffle tickets will be sold for a Jon boat, motor, trailer, and accessories. A mere $10 donation buys a chance to take home this $7,000 value, provided by Fish Springs Marina. Other raffle tickets will be on sale for a so-called 50/50 drawing, meaning the more people who participate, the more the winners receive.

Friday’s slate of activities will spill over onto Saturday, August 11, with a few additions. Beginning at 10:00 a.m. cakes in the cake contest will be sampled, judged and then auctioned at 11:00. Kids can sign up for the talent contest at the ticket table.

From 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Mike McKamey will provide the music. The bingo and the Hula-Hoop and Twist Contests will go another round, and a dancing group, Incahoots, will entertain.

Starting at 4:00 p.m., Little Milligan School Friends will present Return of the Clampetts. The play was a hit the last time it was staged, and Granny got in a fair amount of hot water with the local authorities. If she’s out of jail by now, she’s likely to be hauled back in for a reprise of her performance.

During the cool of the evening, The Yesterdays perform from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. and a new whistling contest will make its Old Butler Days debut. “We’ll have kids eat a saltine cracker and then whistle,” Pierce said.

At 8:00 p.m. the Mystery Cake contest winners will be announced, the Kids Talent Show will take the stage and the adults will take their turn on the Hula-Hoop Contest. At 10:00 p.m., the lucky winners of the Jon boat and other drawings will be announced.

During the festival, the Old Butler Museum will be open to visitors, with tours conducted by the town’s former residents. On Sunday, Watauga Academy alumni will convene its annual meeting and reunion, and a flood of memories will come rushing back from “the town that wouldn’t drown.”


Want To Go?

Date: Friday and Saturday, August 10 to 11
Time: 3:00 to 10:00 p.m. Friday/10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturday
Location: Butler, Tenn.
Cost: Free