In Johnson County, there’s a town rich in history, pride, and natural beauty. It’s been called “quaint,” “unique,” and “picturesque.” The only problem: you can’t go there.
According to legend, the town of Butler was first visited by Daniel Boone as he carved his wilderness trail through the Cumberland Gap. In the following century, it became a thriving railroad town—a center for education and trading. It was the home of a State Legislator, the birthplace of a US Congressman, and the site of an accredited college. But from 1860 to 1940, the town fell victim to seven different major floods, each as devastating as the one before. So, in 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority made the decision to build Watauga Dam, which flooded the Butler valley, and forever entombed the historic town.
The residents were displaced to the “new” town of Butler (just north of “Old” Butler), all retaining unique memories of the town they loved. It was charming, beautiful, and seemingly care-free. And in 1983, adding another element of fascination to the town’s legacy, Watauga Lake was drained to allow former residents to once again visit the town they once called home. Just imagine visiting your childhood home, after having been submerged for 4 decades.
Today, the Butler Museum commemorates the only town ever flooded by the TVA, and “Old Butler Days” pays homage to its memory every year. But perhaps the strongest living memory of Old Butler remains in the hearts and minds of those who once called it home. For that simple reason, “Butler” is forever known as “The Town that Wouldn’t Drown.”