The town of Butler was originally called Smith's Mill, named for a gristmill built by Ezekial "Zeke" Smith on the banks of Roan Creek in 1920, and later renamed in honor of Union Army Colonel Roderick R. Butler. Most famously, it is known as the "town that wouldn't drown," experiencing seven major floods from 1867 to 1940. The town of 600, including its cemetery, was relocated less than 10 miles away to higher ground before its final flood in 1948, when TVA finished construction and closed the gates on the Watauga Dam. As the water began to rise, the town's 125 homes and 50 businesses became submerged under what is now known as Watauga Lake. In the 1980s, the lake was drawn down for a brief period, and residents had the surreal experience of visiting their former homes before the water rose again. The Butler Museum preserves the history of the area, including items from "Old Butler" saved by the residents during relocation.

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