Butler’s Golf Course’s 90th Anniversary

March’s Story… The Tornado of 1963

1963 was a year full of developments for Butler’s Golf Course.  Tom Fox, Sr., who had started as a mechanic in 1937 and followed his brother-in-law, James Sinclair, as superintendent, moved on to Lakeview in West Virginia.  Help was needed at the course, which was then run by J.W. Butler’s two daughters, Mildred Nill and Eva Waldbaum.  It was after Tom’s departure that Mildred and Eva asked Mildred’s 24-year-old son, Ralph Nill, to begin work at the course.  Prior to this, Ralph had no experience in the golf industry and had worked at the family car dealership after college and the Army.  An old photo of the Standard Auto, probably taken in the 1920s, is included below.  This building is currently Sunray Electric’s warehouse in McKeesport.

Ralph entered the picture while the third nine was being constructed, making his transition into his new role that much more difficult.  The clubhouse at the time was in a location that would now be directly in the middle of the parking lot, in between the current clubhouse and cart barns.  This building was originally a roller rink at another location,then J.W.moved and repurposed it here as a dance hall, as early as 1925.  Acts including Slim Bryant brought in large crowds.  Although it was a very popular venue in the early years of the course (pictured below), the dance hall wasn’t used much in the 60’s.  There was a bar at one end, run by an independent operator, Nick Manisotis, who also ran Airways Lounge.  Ralph, Mildred, and Eva already had their hands full with running the daily businesses and overseeing the third nine’s construction.  They were not prepared for what was to come.

On the evening of August 3rd, 1963 just before 9:00 pm, terror struck Western PA in the form of a tornado that registered as an F3 on the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale.  Wind speeds for a tornado such as this are estimated at 158-206 MPH and damage is classified as “severe,” with roofs and some walls torn off of well-constructed houses, trains overturned, most trees in forests uprooted, and heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown.  Tragically, this particular tornado was the cause of two fatalities in Glassport and 70 other injuries in the area.  Thankfully nobody was injured on Butler’s property, but as can be seen in the photos below, damage to the clubhouse was devastating -- the structures were leveled.  Parts of the roof were found in Buena Vista.  The pump house and the old ticket shack for greens fee payments were also destroyed.

Like many members of the community, Ralph, Mildred, and Eva were tasked with recovering from the terrible storm.  Trees on property were uprooted and needed to be hauled away, and construction of the new nine was slowed considerably.  What was left of the old clubhouse needed to be cleaned up and cleared so the process of reconstruction could begin.  Pictured to the right of the destroyed building is a smaller former home that was used for storage in the 60’s.  We believe this building was also removed at that time,and temporary clubhouse activities took place in the end of the house by the cart barns.  This is the old McKnight farmhouse, and an addition to this building had been built and used as a cafeteria for the course until 1938, long before it became office space.  The porch roof on this building was damaged in the storm.  Still more damage was done to the former Patterson farmhouse, between the barn and practice area, which lost its second story then sat semi-abandoned for several years, until a pack of wild dogs moved in.  When originally built, it resembled the house at the corner of Rock Run Rd. and Parkway St.

A builder from Liberty Borough, Al Johnson,did the work on the project of finding a design for and erecting a new clubhouse, and it is pictured below.  Perhaps you recognize the old bag line?  Tee times didn’t start at Butler’s until the 80’s, so back in the day, reserving your group’s place on the tee was done by placing your bag in line.  This also encouraged golfers to show early and consider ordering breakfast prior to play (or to sleep in their cars after working the night shift).  The building should look familiar, as it still exists as the center of our current clubhouse.  The entire left end of the building in the photo used to be the Pro Shop / locker room area, but it is now our banquet room.  The peaked roof in the center represents the Vista Room, and the lower ceiling on the left is now the Fairway Room.  Our current Golf Shop was built to the left, and the Rock Run Inn restaurant (formerly The Mulligan) has always been on the right end of the building, though there have been several additions.The first few gas-powered golf carts weren’t purchased at Butler’s until 1965.

The tornado of ’63 wreaked damage to the surrounding community, and the need to build a new clubhouse at Butler’s was only a tiny portion of the rebuilding and healing process for those affected.  Even now our hearts go out to the families that suffered much greater losses.  We were lucky and thankful to recover so quickly from a storm so destructive. 

Thank you for helping us celebrate our 90th Anniversary by taking a little trip down memory lane.  We look forward to sharing another piece of Butler’s Golf Course history in April. 

History Archives

January's Story - Remembering the Beginning
February's Story - Silent Park Lake and Picnic Grounds