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Butlerville: The Early Days

The resources of Big Cottonwood Canyon – timber, minerals, and water – attracted settlers to the area that became known as Butlerville. Five Butler families and the William McGhie, Jr. family were early settlers. Folklore implies that Butlerville was so named because the Butler families out numbered the fourteen McGhies in an election. Its name is also attributed to Alva Butler who became the first bishop of the Butler Ward, May 12, 1901.

Milestones, A Developing Community

Property for the $150,000 Deseret News Paper Mill, built between 1881 and 1884, was purchased from brothers Philander and Leander Butler. The Granite Paper Mills Co. took ownership of the mill in October 1892. Local resident Nathan H. Staker was foreman of the mill when it caught fire on April Fool’s Day 1893. For thirty-four years the mill lay in ruins until 1927 when J.B. Walker, a trucking contractor, renovated it into the “Old Mill Club.”

A small community grew up in the vicinity of the paper mill. It included the four houses built by the Deseret News Co., a brewery, an ice pond where ice was harvested three times each winter, and a post office that operated from 1890 to 1900 with William McGhie, Jr. as the postmaster. Free rural delivery from the Sandy Post Office, using a horse and buggy, continued until 1920 when the first automobile was put into service.

The Salt Lake County Court created School District No. 57 on January 4, 1878. Trustees first built the 1881-82 log frame building followed by the 1893 brick schoolhouse. The Brown & Sanford Irrigation Co., which brought canyon water to the numerous Butlerville farms, was incorporated in 1901. An agreement was signed by officers of Salt Lake City and the Irrigation Co., July 1931. The result was a culinary water system, installed by the city in exchange for company water. For fire protection, the company installed eight fire hydrants along its system in 1935 and five more in 1948.

Milestones, A Bit of History

Government came to Butlerville on December 15, 1877, when Butler Precinct No. 65 was created by the Salt Lake County Court. Officers appointed until the next election were Leander Butler as Justice of the Peace and William McGhie, Jr. as Constable and Road Supervisor for District No. 28.

Nathan H. Staker opened the first grocery store in 1894 on top of the hill. Nettie (Ritter) Newcomer operated a bakery out of her home in the early 1900s.

Electricity came to Butlerville in 1918 through the efforts of Asa R. Bowthorpe, William C. Wootton, and Edwin Jones. Fruit farming became an important industry in Butlerville. Mr. Kasuga is remembered for developing a new strain of strawberries.

Some of the best fox and mink furs were raised in Butlerville. Alma Farnsworth started the first fox farm in 1929 at 7600 South and 2700 East. Mink farming began when the Erekson Fur Farms moved their operation to the community in 1931.

The first use of the Cottonwood Heights name occurred in 1937 when J.D. Fife, Sr., a Butlerville resident, so named his proposed subdivision. The name was officially adopted in 1953 by the newly organized Cottonwood Heights Community Council.

The Butler Schoolhouse

In 1893 Butler Schoolhouse was built on the North side of Fort Union Boulevard, across the street from the present Butler Elementary School. The land was donated years earlier by R.C. Whitney for the building of the 1881-82, one-room, log frame school. An increase in school-aged children dictated that a larger and more permanent facility be erected. This began in 1893 when a large, one-room, brick building was build adjacent to the 1881-82 school.

Later, this room was known as the “Big Room” where the upper grades were taught. The Trustees of School District No. 57 subsequently added four more classrooms for use by lower grades, a hallway for cloaks, and a bell tower on the west end of the building.

Petitions for a New School

School District No. 57 ceased to exist in 1905 when consolidated districts became the law. Its property and all school funds were turned over to the Jordan School District. District supervisor C.J. Goff, who inspected the 1893 school, said it was “in a very dilapidated condition and should be destroyed and a new one built.” Lack of funds, however, dictated that dictated that the school be maintained.

On February 22, 1922, a committee of Butler residents met before the Jordan School Board to petition for a new school at the earliest possible time. A year later, a representative committee from Butler and Bluffdale met with the Board to petition that the Board erect a school building in at least one community for the coming school year. January 1924 Board minutes reveal that a new Butler School had been built in 1923 on the southwest corner of 27th East and 70th South.

During this period, Bishop William C Wootton of the Butler Ward and Board members of the district were finalizing a property exchange. This occurred March 15, 1925, when signing the respective property deeds made Butler Ward the new owner of the 1893 schoolhouse.

The Old School Bell

For three decades, the 1893 bell was an integral part of the lives of Butlerville residents as it announced the beginning of another school day. Boys anxiously awaited their turn to ring the bell by pulling the rope which hung down from the tower. The bell is 19 inches high, 27 inches across, and weighs 340 pounds. For smaller boys, two or three had to pull together to provide the weight needed to right the large bell. “Older boys liked to annoy the principal or janitor by ringing the bell at the wrong time. Some would climb up the tower and ring the bell at night and wake people for long distances around.”

Preserved for the Future

When Butler Ward made its last renovation (1936) of the former Butler Schoolhouse, the old bell tower was torn down. Merlin Butler saved the historic bell. He later gave it to Ormand S. Coulam who lived immediately east of the church. Coulam kept it on his premises until his property was sold in 1960. Knowing of Norma and Grant Winn’s interest in preserving the bell, he presented it to them for safekeeping. They did so for 35 years.

In the spring of 1995, Carol (Winn) Woodside, daughter of Norma and Grant, turned the bell over to John Wilkinson. It was John’s longtime dream to have the bell returned to the site where originally hung. After his death in 1996, the Historic Butler School Preservation Committee, undertook the task to fulfill John’s dream. This was realized on July 4, 1997, when the bell and tower were dedicated.

Enclosed in the bottom of the bell tower is a time capsule to be opened July 24, 2047. Members of the community, former students, and students enrolled in the area schools were invited and encouraged to contribute letters written for future generations.