The Places We Call Home: Portersville

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Mary Thewes of Portersville, left, empties a bucket full of ash from her wood stove while her husband, Bernie, tries to talk with people on his ham radio outside of their home on Dec. 11. Bernie started operating his radio in 2002 and will get on in the mornings to talk with friends across the country. The Theweses moved to Portersville after they were married in October of 1972. 

By OLIVIA INGLE
oingle@dcherald.com

PORTERSVILLE — Bernie Thewes wanted to be close to the river. He was on the river when he was in the Navy and stationed in Vietnam, and he came to like it.

The river, that is.

So, when he returned home from the war in May 1972, the Jasper native decided to move to Portersville, an unincorporated community nestled in Boone Township in the northwest corner of Dubois County. The White River runs across the northern edge of the township.

Bernie married his wife, Mary (she’s originally from Posey County), in October 1972, and the couple has lived in the same house on West Portersville Road East ever since. It’s been 46 years and counting, and they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

“It was just some crazy notion, I guess,” Bernie, 71, said of moving his life to Portersville.

Portersville not only became a home for Bernie and his family — Bernie and Mary, 67, have one son, Tim Thewes of Jasper — but also Bernie’s business he ran for many years, Bernie’s Small Engine Repair.

According to Portersville-area resident Elsie Keller’s book, “Portersville, Boone Township and Early Dubois County History,” that was published in 2016, the area of Portersville was first settled in 1801 when the McDonalds arrived via the Buffalo Trace, which was part of a buffalo migratory route that ran though Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. They cleared the forests near the present day Sherritt Cemetery in Portersville, which is now the oldest known burial ground in the county. However, the McDonalds never legally claimed the land and were eventually forced to move.

According to George R. Wilson’s history of the county, Portersville is believed to be the oldest community in Dubois County.

According to Herald archives, Arthur Harbison, who was instrumental in the formation of Dubois County, named Portersville after relative John R. Porter, an Orange County judge,

Jacob Lemmon paid for the land on which Portersville sits on Sept. 19, 1814, according to Wilson. There were 445 acres. Portersville became the county seat in 1818, and held that title until the county seat moved to Jasper in 1830.

“In its early days, Portersville was a prosperous little village; court was held there, and soldiers were frequently mustered there,” Wilson wrote. “From the foot of one of its streets, barges, flat-boats and small steamboats carried away the products of the surrounding farms.”

According to the Theweses, the river has and always will be a big part of Portersville’s identity.

Because of the river, the town has its annual Portersville Party. The Theweses helped found the celebration, which is held the first Saturday in September.

Bernie Thewes of Portersville, left, rests on his front steps with his dog Panda after cutting up logs for his wood stove on Dec. 11. Bernie and his wife, Mary, moved to Portersville after they were married in October of 1972.

Keller said the first party was held around the time when many older residents were moving out of Portersville and closer to Jasper because their properties were just too much to take care of. The party was a way to get new residents and former ones together.

“Anybody that had anything to do with Portersville [was invited],” Keller said in a phone interview. She’s lived in the Portersville area — between Portersville and Haysville — for 77 years.

The first party was held in a vacant lot in town in 1990. The organizers bought chicken, everyone brought sides and Bernie supplied the fish, 60 pounds of it that he caught on the river.

“When new people come to the community, they’re always welcome to the party,” Mary said.

Bernie supplies the fish for the party every year.

“You gotta know how to clean them, cook them and eat them,” he said with a chuckle.

Bernie doesn’t get to fish as much as he used to, though, and he’s retired from his repair shop. He had to slow down some after he suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve in 2010.

But, he’s still active as a ham radio operator and teaches hunter’s education courses.

More times than not, can be found causing trouble with Delbert Sendelweck, another Portersville resident.

Mary admits there isn’t much turnover in the Portersville community. But that’s fine with the Theweses

“When they come here, this is where they land,” Mary said.




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