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Stout’s Store – preserving the heritage of Old Butler

Months of hard work and dedication came to fruition Saturday morning at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Stout’s Store at Babe Curtis Park in Butler. In November of 2009 the old general store was moved from its long time location on Highway 67 in the community of Pine Orchard to its new home near the Butler Museum. The museum hopes to incorporate the building as part of its regular operations both as a part of the museum tour and as a concession stand during special events. The 2009 move marked the second time that the building has made such a journey, the first occurring in 1948 when the store was removed from the inundated town of Old Butler.
W.S. Stout originally opened his business in 1930 along Roan Creek, just outside the town of Old Butler. This original location is now under more than 100 feet of water in the center of Watauga Lake near the modern Midway Marina. Stout built his store at a strategic location beside the tracks of the Southern Railway. Serving the needs of the community, the store carried just about anything that customers could want and anything that wasn’t kept in stock Stout could order.

As the TVA began their work building Watauga Dam in the late 40s storeowners began looking for new locations for their businesses. Stout picked the community of Pine Orchard, on the new state Highway 67 and operated there continuously until his death in 1995, becoming one of the longest operating general stores in Johnson County. After changing hands several times the building finally came under the ownership of Florida businessmen Brian Kruger and Robert Ford in 2008. Realizing that the old building was in dire need of repair but also wanting to preserve its long history, Kruger decided to donate the store to the Butler Museum.
By the end of 2009 a moving company had been contacted and the museum was set to take on the project of restoring and maintaining the building for future generations. Over the past year crews from the Northeast Correctional Complex have been working hard to bring the store back to its former glory. Much of the original building was saved, including the hardwood floors, displays, and much of the interior. Bob White with the Butler Museum has overseen the restoration and has done a tremendous job preserving the integrity of the building while bringing its appearance back to what it was like in the 1930s when it was in Old Butler.
At the open house Saturday museum director Herman Tester conducted the opening ceremony while W.S. Stout’s daughter, Doris Dugger cut the ribbon. Dugger was accompanied by her two daughters and granddaughter among other members of W.S. Stout’s family. Also at the ceremony were Brian Kruger, Bob White, county historian Jack Swift, and a crowd of museum supporters, county officials, and local business owners.

Following the ribbon cutting, hot dogs and concessions were served in the store and the museum was officially opened for the 2011 season. As visitors to the store made their way onto the porch, many began to tell stories of how the old store was operated in Old Butler at a time when customers could trade farm eggs and produce for store goods. Brian Kruger who donated the building to the museum was delighted at the transformation that it had gone through. “I can’t believe how good it turned out. It’s amazing to walk through it.”
As part of the project, the store was made to look as it had in the 1930s, complete with a checkerboard beside the wood stove and shelves full of replica products. The museum plans to conduct tours of the building during regular museum hours and will also utilize it for special events such as Old Butler Days. Other uses have also been suggested including story-telling performances such as the one conducted by Mike McKinney at the opening ceremony.
Thankfully through the foresight and dedication of individuals like Brian Kruger and the hard work of the museum workers with help from the inmate crews, a small part of Old Butler has been preserved. At a time before large chain stores, small local operations such as the W.S. Stout Store were the lifeline of the community. Travel was more difficult and life much more rural, making trips to town much more rare. The community store was more than just a stop off on the way to somewhere else, it was often the grocery store, hardware, clothing store, and feed store all in one.
Businesses like Stout’s Store are becoming increasingly rare in the modern landscape but it is comforting to know that future generations can still visit places like the Butler Museum and catch glimpses of what life was like decades ago. As a part of a growing effort to preserve local history, the legacy of W.S. Stout is sure to become an essential part of the museum’s future plans and a valuable asset in its own right.