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‘Old Butler Days’ keeps the town that wouldn’t drown alive for a new generation

The 22nd annual Old Butler Days festival was held at Babe Curtis Park in Butler this past weekend and featured a wide variety of entertainment showcasing some of the best in local talent. Beginning Friday morning the event spanned two full days of excellent food, games, crafts, music, and a celebration of the unique history of Butler and the Watauga Valley.
The Butler Ruritan Club, a civic organization that works to help the people and communities of the Watauga Lake area, organizes old Butler Days each year. Members of the Ruritan were very busy Friday and Saturday preparing and serving food to the crowd including roasted corn, barbecue sandwiches, hamburgers, fries, funnel cakes and several types of desserts, while also organizing a number of prize drawings and contests.
This year the big raffle prizes were divided into two categories with corresponding blue and pink tickets. The blue ticket prizes included a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun, a Husqvarna chainsaw, and a kayak. The pink tickets featured a sewing machine and lessons, a full set of bedding and sheets, and a day at the spa. Other games included a daily 50/50 drawing, guessing games, and door prizes at regular intervals throughout both days.
Another new addition this year was a production of “River Rising” by the Johnson County High School players. The play centers on the history behind the town of Old Butler, which now lies under the waters of Watauga Lake, following the completion of Watauga Dam in the late 1940s. Those interested in the history behind the festival could also visit the Butler museum and the newly restored W.S. Stout Store.
The museum had a very big turnout both days, as visitors from as far away as Bournemouth, England took in the various exhibits and displays featuring artifacts from some of the many homes and businesses that formerly made up the town. Museum representative Bob White and a dedicated group of volunteer tour guides enlivened visitors with stories of Civil War skirmishes, deadly floods, the coming of the TVA in the 1940s, and the rare chance to walk the city’s streets once again in 1983 during a draw-down of the lake. The newly opened W.S. Stout Store at the other end of the park also saw a wide range of interested people streaming in to check out shelves full of replica items and listen to stories about the building in its youth.

On the main stage of the park acts like the Acorn Valley Band, duo singing group Alathea, and storyteller Mike McKinney entertained the crowds who watched from tents set up on the hill in front of the stage. In between acts Ruritan member Terry Potter would host a series of trivia and games, including a hilarious “horse race” where participants rode their stick “horses” across the finish line in an effort to win a stylish cowboy hat.
The big act of the festival was an amazing performance by musicians John Woodall, Billy Gambill, and Brett Sigmon who played covers of everything from Eric Clapton to Lady Gaga. Gambill is a local radio personality for WMCT 1390 and a masterful percussionist. Woodall is a former Garner, NC resident who has played on stages from Nashville to New York City. Together with Sigmon on rhythm guitar, the trio created a memorable experience that had audience members dancing in their seats.
There were also several solemn moments including the raising of the American Flag by the local Boy Scout troop. Following the official ceremony the flag was lowered back to half-mast in honor of the 30 soldiers who were recently killed in an attack on a helicopter in Afghanistan.
Veteran Bob Whitehead was in attendance for the ceremony, where he reminisced about growing up in Old Butler before his family moved out in 1946. Vendor Jack Able graciously donated a new POW flag for the park’s memorial display, replacing an older, faded flag.
Vendors set up booths all over the park selling locally made crafts, custom T-shirts, hand made furniture, jewelry, and toys. The Butler Fire Department had several attractions set up including a fireman’s training maze, a moon walk inflatable, dunking booth, and a train ride for the kids.

In its inception Old Butler Days served to bring together those who remembered the lost town. As time has passed traditions have been established which help ensure that the history and sacrifice of the people in this community will not be forgotten. Now, however, after many of the older generations have passed and a new generation is coming of age, and as more and more people move here from other areas and become new residents, the responsibilities of keeping this rich heritage alive is falling to an entirely different group of people. Fortunately many have been fascinated and motivated by what they have found and groups like the Butler Ruritan and the Butler Museum are paving the way for their community’s future.