Butler is on U.S. Highway 84 fourteen miles southeast of Fairfield in southeast Freestone County. In 1852, at a nearby location known as West Point Hill, John T. Gill built a store and warehouse, which he moved a few miles away from the Trinity River the following year. Several families from Butler County, Alabama, including the Mannings, McDaniels, Mayeses, and Mobleys, settled in the area at the same time. In 1854 a church was organized, and the next year a post office by the name of West Point was established. In 1856 the name of the town was officially changed to Butler. By 1858 the community had a doctor, a general store, several businesses, and a Masonic lodge. The post office was closed in 1867 but reestablished in 1868. Butler Academy was authorized by the Texas legislature in 1870. The major revenue of the town at that time was from cotton, which was shipped through Galveston by steamboat on the Trinity River. In 1872 the International-Great Northern Railroad attempted to build a line through the town, but an agreement with landowners could not be reached. The railroad instead went through Oakwood and Palestine. In 1880 the population of Butler was 300, but by 1892 it had decreased to 150, primarily due to the lack of a railroad and the decline in steamboat traffic.
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