After 82 years as a vital part of Hartsville, Butler High School was closed in 1982. The complex was used as a warehouse and one wing housed the ALERT center for gifted elementary students, when the Darlington County School Board offered the property for sale to commercial developers. The Butler Heritage Foundation was organized in the fall of 1991 by Butler alumni, former faculty and concerned citizens, who developed a plan to restore the Butler campus for public use as a community center.
The Foundation's efforts over the following years were successful. The Darlington County School Board agreed to deed five buildings of the Butler complex to the city of Hartsville. A lease agreement between the City and the Butler Heritage Foundation gave the Foundation full responsibility for securing funds, planning programs and operating a multi-purpose community center at Butler.
The Butler Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization, tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Annual membership dues are $20.00. The Board of Directors consists of fifteen elected members who serve three year terms, plus representatives from organized alumni chapters.
The buildings leased to the Butler Heritage Foundation were in dismal conditions due to age and extensive water damage caused by leaking roofs, broken windows, and gutted interiors. Two buildings were fire damaged. With a Community Development Block Grant, generous donations from alumni, supporters and countless volunteer hours, the organization has worked to make the building usable.
First to be renovated was the former band room, which opened in November, 1994 as the Butler Senior Citizen Center. The Darlington County Council of Aging operates its Hartsville Nutrition Site there daily for Senior Citizens to socialize and participate in organized activities.
As renovations progressed, portions of the former shop buildings and the gym were used for the BACK (Butler Alumni Coaching Kids) tutorial program, Girl Scouts, the Delta Rich program, the Healthy Start Teen Life Center and various community meetings. Renovation of the 11,500 sqare foot shop building continued until the fall of 1999, when the building was ready for the long-awaited Hartsville Boys and Girls Club. Serving young people ages 6-18, the club is open Monday thru Friday afternoon during the school year and 7:30 am - 5:30 pm during summer months. Activities offered include homework assistance, citizenship and leadership development, drug and alcohol abuse education, health and physical education, arts and crafts and just plain fun.
The eight-classroom building, which was badly damaged by fire during the period it served as a warehouse, required extensive and costly renovation. Partnering with the Darlington County Community Action Agency, the building opened as the Butler Head Start Center where five classes of three- and four-year-olds attend. Two of the classrooms are used for community meetings and conferencing rooms for the Butler Heritage Foundation.
Attention was then focused on the historic Administrative building, built in 1936. The interior was damaged by fire and the roof was deteriorating, making the renovation of this building the greatest challenge by far. Yet, this building had the greatest significance as an historic landmark and a symbol of the legacy of the Butler High School. The building was used as an auditorium and gym until fire destroyed the school's administrative building in 1961. The chapel, as it was known, was renovated for use as administrative offices and classrooms. A fire destroyed half of the building and neglect and age saw the deterioration of the roof after Butler closed in 1982. A grant from the Byerly Foundation provided $350,000.00, and generous donations from alumni, friends, supporters and class donations totaled $350,000.00 to complete the renovation in 20008. The historic landmark includes rooms for artifacts, memorabilia, an auditorium and office space.
In 2009 the Foundation asked the Darlington County Board of Education to deed the Butler property to the Butler Heritage Foundation. On October 11, 2011 the 10.5 acres was deeded to the Butler Heritage Foundation.
Each July, Heritage Week is celebrated to focus attention on Butler's legacy and the Foundation's goals. Events are planned to bring alumni and friends to the campus for activities and fun. The annual Foundation meeting is held during Heritage Week to inform Foundation members and friends of the previous year activities and future events.