Portersville history chronicled starting with settlers

Photo courtesy of Ireland Historical Society 
Hobard McDonald and Henry Rudolph are pictured with two teams of mules and a large log on a box wagon chassis in Portersville sometime in the early 1900s. The sycamore log was said to be 58 inches in diameter.


PORTERSVILLE — Elsie Keller of Portersville spent many nights in her recliner with a laptop on her lap compiling the history of Portersville.

Keller’s work recently came to fruition when the Dubois County Genealogical Society published her work, “Portersville, Boone Township and Early Dubois County History.”

Keller compiled the history using works by local historian George R. Wilson, several newspaper columns by Dot Cox, other newspaper sources and a scrapbook handed down from her grandmother.

The book chronicles the history of the area Keller calls home from 1801 when the first settlers, the McDonalds, arrived via the Buffalo Trace Trail to 2016. Keller thinks the book is important because local history is getting lost. She learned local history in seventh and eighth grade, she said, but today’s students don’t.

“A lot of people don’t know (local history),” she said. “They don’t teach it in schools.”

For example, she doubts many people know that when the county was first settled, it was covered in forests, not the farmland that now blankets the county. Settlers came via trails cut through the forests by wildlife, especially buffalo, and that is where the trail that brought settlers to Dubois County — the Buffalo Trace — got its name.

The Buffalo Trace was part of a buffalo migratory route that ran through Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. It served as the first major road into what became Indiana and ran through Dubois County near the White River in present day Boone Township.

Sherritt Cemetery (Herald file photo)


When the McDonalds arrived in the area, they cleared the forests in the area near present day Sherritt Cemetery, the oldest known burial ground in Dubois County. The cemetery has 170 graves from the county’s first families and sits east of the intersection of Portersville Road and County Road West 600N in the northwest part of the county. The McDonalds, however, never put a legal claim to the land, Keller said. When Capt. Toussaint Dubois, whom the county is named for, came to the area and claimed the land, the McDonalds had to move.

“People do each other dirty today,” Keller said, “but I guess that kind of stuff was happening back then, too.”

In more recent history, Keller compiled information about coal mining in the area, the Rudolph Hotel that used to be in Portersville and a general store that people traveled from all over the area to visit, some crossing the river from Alfordsville by ferry until 1913 when a bridge was built.

Keller also included information on the many one-room schoolhouses that used to dot the area.

“Wherever you lived, there was usually a school within walking distance,” Keller said.

In 1946, all the one-room schoolhouses consolidated into a single school that sat north of the Ireland Sportsman Club near the Union Presbyterian Church. The church is no longer there, but the sportsman club is.

Keller said her book is the first publication the genealogical society has done in several years. Previous publications include bound collections of obituaries from Dubois and surrounding counties, collections of marriage and death records, naturalization records from 1839 to 1954, records of apprentices in Dubois County from 1841 to 1912, census data from the 1800s and cemetery directories for each Dubois County cemetery. Many of the books can be found in the local libraries’ genealogy sections.

“Portersville, Boone Township and Early Dubois County History” can be picked up at Fisher’s Home Appliance Repairs in Portersville or ordered by phone by calling Keller at 812-695-2861 or Tom Kellams at 812-482-7080. The book costs $36.92 if mailed and $32.10 if picked up in person.

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