The story of progress in the New Hope area is the story of the Lions Club, a group of dedicated residents whose efforts throughout the 1950s and 1960s shaped the future of this region.
The Lions Club, an organization known for its work in sight conservation, became a driving force locally in community development. Among its many successful projects were attracting a bank to New Hope, leading the way for the town to be incorporated and helping form the volunteer fire department.
But perhaps the greatest impact the Lions Club had on the area — a project that will benefit residents for generations to come — was the formation of New Hope Telephone Cooperative. With the founding of the cooperative, these community leaders ensured that local residents would not be left behind as telecommunications changed our world.
In 1948, New Hope had one phone line connected to Huntsville. Butler Brothers General Store and New Hope Drug Company each had a phone on this line. Another connection extended to Poplar Ridge, to the Butler farm. “Our family had a line that we maintained, that tied into Butler Brothers,” says John Ed Butler. “They made the call for us at the store, then hooked us up.”
John Ed Butler had just returned to the family farm with a degree from Auburn University. He joined the Lions Club and soon found himself in the midst of a progressive project.
After unsuccessful attempts to bring the big investor-owned telephone company to New Hope, Lions Club members set out to make it happen for themselves. “We got a government loan to build our own cooperative,” Butler recalls.
The loan was made possible by an amendment to the Rural Electrification Act which had brought electricity to much of rural America. The amendment made low-interest, long-term loans available to communities in need of telephone service.
Lions Club members began holding meetings in various communities to promote the idea of a telephone cooperative. They also encouraged people to become members, at a fee of $28. “We had no trouble getting active members,” says Butler.
When news came that the loan request met government requirements and New Hope Telephone Cooperative would in fact become a reality, Butler says it was “a time of great excitement.” A board of directors was established and, because of his role in working the Poplar Ridge area, Butler was selected to serve.
For the next 25 years, Butler watched the small cooperative experience tremendous changes. The first lines came alive in August 1953. Service was extended throughout New Hope and Owens Cross Roads, and then the Grant area was added. Private lines became a reality. The cooperative’s first general manager, Charles V. Lee, retired and Tom Butler took the reins. And the telephone company continued offering new services and branching into new businesses to better serve its members.
Butler is the only surviving member of the original NHTC board. Other founding board members were Bob Moon, Lawrence Hereford, John G. Butler and James Mann.