By Jill Penley
Clouds and sporadic rain showers failed to dampen Saturday’s celebration of “the town that wouldn’t drown” as visitors enjoyed music, games, vendors, food, auctions and plenty of history during the 29th Annual Old Butler Days festival, held last week at Babe Curtis Park. The event sponsored annually by the Butler Ruritan appropriately centers around Old Butler, the town that currently lies at the bottom of Watauga Lake.
“We have looked forward to this year’s festival for months,” said Nioka Markland, who has been a member of the Butler Ruritan for the past eight years. “The 2018 Old Butler Days event marks the 70th anniversary of the closing of the floodgates that created Watauga Lake and it is the 29th anniversary of Old Butler Days.”
In 1948, the original town of Butler was flooded by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to build the 318 feet high Watauga Dam, which extends 900 feet across the Watauga River. The Watauga Dam is a hydroelectric facility with two generating units with a net dependable capacity of 66 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a dam can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the dam itself.
Butler became the largest and only incorporated town ever to be flooded in the building of a reservoir, or lake. At more than 1,900 feet above sea level, Watauga Lake holds the distinction of being the highest reservoir in the Tennessee River system. It continues to reduce possible flood damage and generate electricity in addition to providing a plethora of aquatic recreational opportunities. Before the flooding, Butler’s businesses and homes had to be moved to higher ground to make up the town of Butler we know today.
“It’s hard to fathom there are grocery stores, churches and sidewalks buried deep beneath the lake,” said Markland. “It is great to celebrate Butler – the old and the new.”
The festival, held on the grounds of the Old Butler Museum, contains many artifacts including recreations of the Blue Bird Tea Room, T.R. Burgie’s General Store, the post office, the barber shop and the church. Old Butler Days began decades ago as a reunion of families and individuals who formerly lived in and around the town of Butler. Butler has gone down in history as the only town TVA flooded out. The dam they built is also the only earthen dam created by TVA.