Celebration set for Aug. 4 in Butler

Sacred Heart Catholic Church was started in 1910 and has served the community of Butler for the past 113 years.

By Tucker Henderson


A milestone anniversary is taking place this year as Butler Township celebrates 140 years of organization. 

The recorded history started in 1879 when the first settler, Amasa J. Pierce, homesteaded the first plot of land in the unnamed region. Four years later the township was organized by 17 petitioning land owners. They had suggested the name “Red Eye” for the stream that flows through the area, but the Otter Tail County Board of Directors refused the name, instead dubbing the township “Butler” after the county sheriff at the time, Steven Butler.

Butler Township includes the unincorporated community of the same name which is located near the center of the township.

In the following decades, homesteaders and pioneers of mainly Finnish, German, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch decent decided to call Butler Township home. In fact, the very last parcel of land to be homesteaded in Otter Tail County was in the township. The land patent was filed July 5, 1907 by Joseph Johanson.

One of the early fixtures of the community was the Holy Cross Catholic Church, which still stands as a refuge from the world for parishioners around the Butler area. The original edifice was built in 1910 and served the congregation for 89 years, until it was struck by lighting on May 10, 1999. The NY Mills Fire Department had been called just before 4 a.m. and by the time they reached the blaze, the roof had already caved in and the loss was inevitable.

As the fire continued, word of the fire spread to the surrounding parishioners and they drove in to watch their church be consumed by flame. Father Kevin Schwartz consoled his parishioners as they visited the rubble after the fire had been extinguished. The community rallied around the parish in 2000 and that year the new church was rebuilt and remnants of the original building serve as an homage to the 89 years of its service.

One of the other staples of the community was the Butler store which was built in 1898. Jake and Carrie Hendrickx took over operation of the store in 1920 and the Hendrickx family has a long-running history of business in Butler. 

Jake was one of the early settlers who came from Holland in 1910 and settled in Butler as a Dutch colony. The Minnesota Catholic Colonization Society, as well as the D.S.B. Johnson Land Company of St. Paul, sent agents to Holland to entice Catholics to come to America and buy cheap land in Minnesota’s Northwoods. The sales pitch worked and the new settlers were on their way to America. These settlers were from areas of large populations in Holland, so they were accustomed to city life, something that didn’t serve them well at first in the rural Minnesota wilderness.

One of the first things the Dutch immigrants did was purchase rifles and ammunition at the local hardware store once they stepped off the train in New York Mills. Hunting was strictly regulated in Holland, so they were eager to explore their new found freedom in the United States. On the trip north to Butler, they didn’t see a solitary animal to shoot.

As it was springtime, muddy ruts made the entire roadway from NY Mills a soupy mess as the immigrants traversed their way to their new homeland. Settlers were so discouraged from what they saw that many of them vowed to take the next train bound for New York City to make their way back to the old country.

Hardier thoughts prevailed, however, and many of the disgusted-at-first pioneers settled into their new home and resided in the community for the rest of their lives.

Farming in Butler Township has a long and rich history and it became easier for local farmers in 1938 when electricity reached the Township through REA and electrical machinery and methods were able to be adopted to make the work easier for everyone.

Change wasn’t always positive for Butler, however. The Post Office closed in 1954 and some of the businesses in town have closed up shop and activity has dwindled.

That hasn’t stopped the community from coming together in recent times, however, and another community celebration is scheduled for August as a time to remember the “good old days” and to chat about the now as well.

A celebration of 140 years will be taking place at the Holy Cross Church Hall on August 4 at 5:30 p.m. The meal starts at 6 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m. Those who attend the celebration are being asked to bring a dish to pass around and a beverage to consume at the church.