A ‘little piece of her past’

Published 5:08 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2021

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By Lynn J. Richardson
Sometimes there are things too sentimental to resist. When Janie Reece of Butler saw a coin advertised for sale online at a local marketplace, she knew she had to have it. It brought back memories of her grandmother, Maude Goode, and the life she had lived in Old Butler. The coin was a piece of company scrip from a business that had once been in Old Butler — the L.L. McQueen Lumber Company. She tried to buy it but she wasn’t fast enough; it had already been sold. Determined, Reece reached out to the seller, telling of her interest and asking her to remember her should she ever have another one. As luck would have it, she did have another one. Unlike the first, a 50 cent coin, this one was a 25 cent piece.
Reece was thrilled, and even though the seller was reluctant at first, Reece convinced her to sell. “The lady told me that the coins were found with a metal detector in the Butler area, both in about the same place.” That coin sure brought back a lot of memories for Reece. “My mama was raised in Old Butler and they had to move when they built the Watauga Dam,” Reece recalls. “My grandparents lived there too. I used to take my grandmother up to where the family cemetery is — Lakeview Cemetery — and she could stand at the edge of the wood line and tell me where everything used to be before the town was flooded.” 
Flooding was a common occurrence in Old Butler when the Watauga River got high. It had become an unpleasant, but somewhat accepted part of life in the small community. But in 1940, when the waters took the lives of six people, caused extensive damage to nearby Elizabethton and destroyed most of the Elizabethton-to-Mountain City railroad, the Tennessee Valley Authority got involved. They became convinced that flood control on the Watauga was necessary. 
According to information on the TVA website, work to build the Watauga Dam began in 1942. Interrupted by World War II, construction resumed after the war in 1946. As a result, the entire town — 650 families, including 125 homes, and 50 other structures, were moved to 200 acres of farmland on the banks of the reservoir in 1948. On December 1, 1948, the gates at Watauga Dam closed and the water began to rise, consuming the foundations of the homes and businesses that had been part of the community. Reece’s grandmother often spoke of the days before and after she and her family had to move from their original home.
 “They owned an old store in Butler and they had 11 kids,” Reece said. “They lived upstairs and had the store downstairs.” While she remembers bits and pieces of stories her grandmother told her, Reece was too young to remember as much as she would like. So now, years later, she is hungry for more information about her family’s history and their connection to the original Butler community. Her new acquisition — the coin/scrip — is part of that history and she is hoping to learn more about it.
“From what I’ve gathered so far, L.L. McQueen also owned the phone company in Old Butler, but he died in 1937 before the dam was ever built,” Reece said. “I’ve not been able to find anyone who can tell me anything about the lumber yard or where it was located.” The only lumber yard Reece has been able to get information about is the White Lumber Company which was in Old Butler and she wonders if there might be some family connection; her grandmother’s maiden name was “White.”
She grins as she looks at the piece of scrip in the palm of her hand. “I can’t believe I actually paid money for this,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a little piece of aluminum. I’ve seen Coke lids heavier than that.” Still, there are no regrets. “I just needed this old coin to have something to hold onto because my grandmother is gone now, and I loved her very much. “When I got this I felt I had a little piece of her past.” 
(Anyone having more information about the L.L. McQueen Lumber Yard that was located at Old Butler may contact Reece at janie.reecediesel@gmail.com)

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