Learn More About Portis
Compiled by Laura McClure
The town of Bethany was
founded in 1871 and platted by Samuel Chatfield and Philander Judson in
1879. That August the Central Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad was
built through Bethany and with it came the problem of the town’s mail
being mixed with that of Bethany, Missouri. On February 16, 1880, the
town and post office changed their name to Portis in honor of railroad
official Thomas J. Portis.
In the fall of 1879
Samuel Beardsley erected the first and only hotel ever opened in Portis,
the Northway. Three newspapers saw life during the city’s early years.
The Portis Patriot began in 1880, later became the Whisperer,
and in 1904 the Portis Independent reported the weekly news until
A drug store was opened
in the 1890s and finally closed in 1949. A number of restaurants
operated in the city over the years, with the last closing in the 1990s.
A theatre was started in the Portis Opera House and then moved into a
building of its own, closing in the late 1920s.
In earlier years,
townspeople gathered at the Opera House to watch the legendary Portis
Dynamos town basketball team. Put together in 1918, for many years they
dominated all other town teams from across northern Kansas and southern
Nebraska. A Dynamo loss was so rare that they are simply not remembered.
Portis Driving/Walking Tour:
1. City Park. Melvin “Tubby” Miller was born in 1900 in Portis;
as Mel Millar he drew several of the earliest Porky Pig features. The
native limestone Porky Pig Marker located in the Portis City Park is in
his honor. Also seen here is a memorial to longtime Portis physician Dr.
Claude Burtch, which features the limestone step that all his patients
used in going to visit their favorite doctor and friend.
2. Grace Brethren Church. First organized in 1883, the current
Grace Brethren Church dates from 1922.
3. Former home of Hud & Nina Turner. For much of the 20th Century
Hud and Nina Turner were the heart and soul of the community of Portis.
They worked in the bank, as postmaster, for newspapers, insurance, and a
host of other business-related activities. Hud & Nina were also members
of numerous civic and fraternal organizations. Both were active well
into their 90s. Among many things they were responsible for the
placement of the Porky Pig Marker in honor of Hud’s boyhood friend Tubby
4. Site of first Portis Grade & High School. From 1906 to 1950
this was where the first substantial school building stood.
5. Ruins of Burtch Hospital. Opened in 1925 and many times
expanded, Dr. Claude Burtch operated this private hospital until 1952.
Patients recuperated on the first floor while surgeries were performed
on the second floor. Among the many surgeons who assisted him was Dr.
John Outland (for whom college football’s Outland Trophy is named to
honor), who would periodically fly from Kansas City to Portis for
6. North Solomon Church of the Brethren. Organized in 1883, this
church building was erected in 1898. Services were held here until the
mid-1980s. East of the church can be seen the home of Wallace & Nellie
McDaneld, members of the Osborne County Hall of Fame. Wallace was a
Brethren minister, and his wife Nellie was a dedicated historian and
7. Portis United Methodist Church. This church was first
organized in 1881. This structure was erected in 1915 at a cost of
$5,500.00. Weekly services are still held here.
8. Fire Station.
9. Midway Co-op elevators. A grain elevator has stood at this
site since the late 1880s.
10. Former Portis State Bank. The Portis bank was established in
1885 and the next year renamed the Portis State Bank. This distinctive
building was built in 1887 to house the bank. In 1904 it was renamed the
First State Bank of Portis. Over the years four attempts were made to
rob the bank, the robbers being caught every time. The bank closed in
the early 1990s.
11. Portis Opera House. The Opera House was built in 1911 by
local contractor Basil Wood. 74 feet by 32 feet in length, the building
has been used as City Hall, a community center, and has hosted dinners,
plays, Vaudeville shows, dances, roller skating, and basketball games.
It was at one time also a mill where grain was ground, and a feed and
seed store. The legendary Portis Dynamos town basketball team called it
home for over three decades.
12. Site of Continental Sculpture Hall. From 1955 to 1984,
nationally-renowned folk artist and Osborne County Hall of Famer Inez
Marshall operated an art galley here that featured her marvelous work
with limestone carvings. Today the collection can be seen at the
Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas.
13. Portis City Office.
14. Former Franco’s Restaurant. A building used for just about
everything throughout Portis’s history, this two-story structure is most
recently famous for housing the town's last restaurant. On the north
side can still be seen the famous “Wife” advertisement.
15. Portis Post Office.
16. Gene Coop’s Classic Cars. Local resident Gene Coop has
restored several classic cars; the collection is available for viewing
17. Northway Lumberyard. Lorenzo started this lumberyard in 1909
and sold it to Harold Wolters in 1944. It closed upon his death in July
18. Site of Tubby Miller home / second Portis Grade & High
School. On these historic grounds the first house in the community was
erected in June 1871. Mrs. Louise Lindley, a Civil War widow, also
served as the town’s first postmistress. In 1900 Melvin “Tubby” Miller
was born in a house that once stood here. In 1950 the new Portis
Grade/High School was built here, and classes were held until 1967 when
the school merged with nearby Osborne and Alton. In 1972 the building
became a community center and now is owned by Portis native Jim Wolters.
19. Wolter’s Auction House. Catch the sight and sounds of a
genuine country auction at Wolters Auction Service, found just west
behind the former school building. Auctions are held almost weekly
throughout the year. If you are lucky enough to attend one, don’t forget
to visit the food stand in the back with the homemade pies.
Melvin Miller, Portis Artist
Portis native Melvin
Miller was born May 6, 1900. He received the nickname of “Tubby” due to
his being round as a tub as a boy. In school his talent for sketching
became evident as he filled his textbooks with drawings of the lesson he
was learning at the time.
Melvin graduated from
Portis High School in 1918 and then attended the Kansas City Art School
in Missouri. He was later hired by Leon Schlessinger Productions in
California. Upon arriving in Hollywood he changed his name for
professional reasons, and Mel Millar was seen on theater screens across
the country. Under Schlessinger, Mel worked on numerous “Looney Tunes”
and “Merry Melodies” cartoons. For many of these he sketched the famous
Porky Pig. Some cartoons also featured the character Portis Pig, named
after his hometown. And whenever a Porky Pig feature was being shown
near Portis the people there would call and tell each other so that few
would miss seeing Mel’s creations.
Later Mel moved on,
working a while for Walt Disney Productions and then teaching at the
Hollywood Art School. He married Helen Hefner in 1957 and continued to
live in Burbank, California. From time to time he came back to Portis to
visit and to attend alumni reunions, where he always entertained his
friends with stories and made presents of his drawings. He published
several cartoon books and did drawing until his retirement.
Mel died December 30,
1980, and was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank. Through the
efforts of lifelong friends Hud and Nina Turner, a limestone memorial
was erected in the Portis city park in 1992 to Melvin “Tubby” Miller, so
that the accomplishments of a jovial native son will be long remembered.
Miller is also listed in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
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