by Lynwood Hale
undated, from the files of the Fannin County Historical Commission
Portland was never a town but a community of closely knit families, and was one of the first communities settled in Fannin County. The main Greenville-Bonham road came through Portland which was situated about ten miles southeast of Bonham. This was a mud road and sometimes it would take two days to travel by horse between the two towns.
The original title to the land in this area was held by the University of Texas. In 1872 or 1873 Jesse Green London, one of the settlers in the Portland Community, bought a tract of land from the University of Texas. This land was part of the tract which came to be known as the L. B. Tefteller homeplace, now owned by Mrs. Margaret Hale McLeod. The house on this place is one of four landmarks still visible in the Portland Community. The others are the T. O. London home, Portland Church and the Ben Smith house.
A history from 1888 says, "Portland has one store, a postoffice, blacksmith shop, woodshop and a good school house which was used for church also. The country around Portland is beautiful with farm after farm dotted thick with dwellings, barns and fine orchards. The soil is black and produces cotton, fruit and vegetables." The store mentioned was a two story grocery store run by a man by Holman which housed the postoffice as well as his residence.
The Portland School District was established around 1879, but a federal census of 1850 shows Wm. T. Bell, R. P. Henderson and B. F. Goin living north of present day Portland; J. G. London and Marion M. Biggerstaff to the east and K. C. Henslee (a Mexican war veteran) to the southeast. These men were the real pioneers in this area.
A one room log building served as both the elementary school and church. Six grades were taught at Portland School and McGuffey readers were the chief instructional material used. Richard Sikes, husband of Hattie Tefteller, was one of the last teachers at Portland before it was consolidated about 1898 with Prairie View and Preston school to form the 3-P School. However, Miss Fannie Countess continued to conduct summer school sessions at the Portland School-Church building for several years after 1898. Volney and Hoyt London, Olga and Ina London, Virgie and Farrest Tefteller, Lennie Smith Roberts and Earl Smith, Clyde and Guy London were among those who attended summer sessions at Portland.
During the depression a quilting club was organized at Portland. Materials were scarce and money hard to come by so most materials used was leftover from clothes made. The members of the club were Janie Smith Jones, Lura London, Ruth White, Tommie Hale, Luna Morgan, Amber Morgan, Verna Burnett, Maggie Fowler and Prudie McCollar. Theh ladies got cotton from the gin and carded it at home. Sometimes flour sacks were used for quilt linings. Many beautiful quilts were made. Many were given to the needy in the community.
The Portland Church has been the focal point for the community having been organized (possibly by W. T. and Sara Gober Bell, in 1898) in the Portland school. There are church records since 1902 which are in good condition. The members worshipped in the school until 1909 when the present church building was built with donated labor. Mr. Will London was the carpenter and others who worked on the church were Rev. H. H. Green, Lon Tefteller, Ben Smith, Tom Durham, Andrew Edwards, O. F. London, Aught Allmond, Tom Fowler, Sample Smith, Barney Smith, John Renshaw and Charlie Sudderth. When the church was finished the men made the benches. There have only been two roofs on the church. There has been one organ and two pianos. Mr. Cecil Stevens played the organ for many years.
Several district conference have been held at the church during the years.
The church licensed one young man, Herschel Adamson, to preach in 1940.
The tabernacle was built about 1914. At one point when money was needed one of the members wanted to sell the tabernacle but was voted down.
Many residents can recall the summer revivals held at the church under the tabernacle. Sometimes these would last two weeks. In the early days they were called protracted meetings. People would come from other communities and towns. The shed would be full of people and others standing outside. Baby pallets would be all around the shed. The church yard would be full of buggies and wagons. Later when Model T. cars were used if it rained all would be stuck and were in trouble. The revival was a time for dressing up. Mothers would buy cloth from the chicken peddler, paying with butter and eggs. They would then make dresses and get ready to go to day and night services. Many times people would leave work in the fields and attend the morning services.
The pastors for the church were Rev. H. H. Green, P. G. Shaw, W. G. Airhart, J. Cluck, R. J. Starr, twice, Clint McCurdy, Herschel Adamson, Lewis, John Rowland, Edward Cunningham, Doyle Wilson, Oscar Mills and E. W. Verner present pastor. Services are still held on second and fourth Sundays.
For a number of years there was a gin and gin pool just west of the church and sometimes as many as thirty people would be baptized in the gin pool.
Some memories of Mrs. Verna Fowler Burnett are as follows: Mr. Joe Cline walking to Portland and serving as Sunday School Superintendent for many years. Mr. T. O. London going early on Sunday morning in cold weather to build a fire in the big pot belly stove to warm the church. Mrs. Lura London and Mrs. Fowler keeping the preacher and singer. Mrs. Tommie Hale doing everything from playing the piano to sweeping out the church. Mrs. Maggie Fowler teaching a Sunday School Class for more than fifty years.
The early day people of Portland had a love and concern for each other. There were no nursing homes, no funeral homes and few hospitals. The people were cared for in their homes with the help of neighbors. Mrs. Ella Smith was a good seamstress and would make the burial clothes for any woman or baby, sometimes setting up all night to sew without a cent of pay.
There have been many weddings and funerals held in the church. The last wedding was Leeman Sewell and Bertie Dodson in 1957. Leeman is the son of Mr. & Mrs. J. L. Sewell who are still members of the church. The last funeral was for Herman Smith, son of Mr. and Mrs. Collie Smith.
In 1966 Mrs. Maggie Fowler suggested that a homecoming be held on the first Sunday in August of each year. The homecoming has been an annual event since 1966.
In 1973 an old time singing was started on Friday nights. For a number of years this singing continued each Friday with the church being filled with singers and listeners. With the energy crisis the singing was changed to the First Friday of each month and continues to this date. Those responsible for the singing are Lynwood Hale, J. H. Stephens, J. L. Sewell, J. R. Stephens and Rev. and Mrs. E. W. Verner.
The early founders of Portland had a love for God, family and community and this love is still shown in the people of Portland today.
From Portland came merchants, ministers, doctors, teachers, bankers, nurses, farmers and the list could go on and on.
The stone to the left is at the base of the historical marker.
The earliest known settler in the Portland community was Jesse Green London (1843-1875), a native of Missouri and a Confederate veteran who brought his family here in 1873. Other early settlers included members of the Tefteller, Cline, Bell, Henderson, Goin, and Biggerstaff families.
The small farming community boasted several business establishments, including a blacksmith shop and a wood shop by the late 1880s. The six-grade Portland School opened in 1879 and met in a one-room log building until the school district was consolidated with two other area schools in 1898. The grocery store served as a residence and post office as well. Founded at the end of the 19th century, the Portland Congregational Methodist Church worshiped in the old log schoolhouse until 1909 when a sanctuary was built at this site.
The opportunity for Portland to grow and prosper was denied when the rail line was laid south of the settlement. Although a few homes and this church building are all that remain of the community, the settlers left a rich heritage for their descendants, many of whom still live in the area.
Directions: From Bailey go .5 miles on SH 78N; then go east for 1.4 miles on FM 1552.