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   Portland Page

Callaway County, Missouri


by Carolyn Leeper

Portland, Missouri, is a town nestled between bluffs along the wide Missouri River. Before the Lewis and Clark Expedition the area was populated only with Indians and maybe a few fur trappers that had wandered up the river from the East. Evidence of earlier Indian life still exists in their burial mounds along the bluffs and in a large cave near Portland, which when excavated by archaeologists from the University of Missouri, was discovered to have many artifacts and the complete skeleton of an Indian child.

The first plat of Portland was recorded in 1883. With the emergence of river boats, and later the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, Portland became a booming town. Merchants from all over Callaway County and surrounding areas would drive their wagons to Portland to pick up supplies from the boats and trains; therefore Portland was known as one of the most important towns in Callaway County. Many homes throughout the county and surrounding area are still standing, which were buill from materials brought by wagon from Portland.

Some of the businesses in Portland at the turn of the century were the Callicott General Merchandise, Bra-shears General Merchandise, the Knox Hardware Store, a lumber yard and flour mill owned by R.S. Wilson, the 'Gibson Grainery, and the Ries Jewelry Store. There were two hotels, which contained dance halls; a pool hall; a restaurant for the many travelers passing through by train or riverboat; a drug store; and a box factory. There was also a bank known as the Bank of Portland. Portland had one large stock pen along the railroad tracks in order for the farmers to drive their herds of stock into town and load them on the trains. The only thing left of that is the old well and pump.

The first church was the Methodist Church. Around 1908 the Episcopal Church was built, a beautiful rock structure still in use. It was one of the first Episcopal churches west of the Missouri River. Later, around 1920, the Baptist Church was built and is still in use. There was an Episcopal School for Boys overlooking the Missouri River. The building that housed the school was separated and moved apart a few hundred feet, making two separate homes that still overlook the river.

A one-room schoolhouse was built around 1903. The last classes in it were in 1956, before it was consolidated with South Callaway at Mokane. The building is in excellent condition and is being used as the Portland Community Building. Portland had two doctors. Dr. Gilman and Dr. A.D. Bridges were both on the first Board of Directors of the Callaway Memorial Hospital. My mother, Ottilie Holz-hauser, told me that her father would get up in all hours of the night, hitch up his horse and buggy and go treat someone ill regardless of what time or where it was. He usually got paid with whatever produce the patient had at the time.

One of the most exciting events in town would be the arrival of the "Show Boat." Long before the boat would arrive you could hear the music playing and everyone would go to the landing to meet it.

One of the oldest and largest families in the Portland area was the Meyer-Holzhauser family. There is a Meyer-Holzhauser cemetery about one and one half miles out of town on a hillside overlooking a valley. The Meyers and Holzhausers settled in Portland around the middle 1800's. Louis and Annie Meyer Holzhauser had nine boys and one girl. About half of the brothers and their sister left Portland at one time or another to make a living but eventually returned. All of the Holzhauser boys were known far and near for their ball playing ability and their love of the game. With so many boys they had a team that consisted mostly of the brothers. Richard "Dick" Holzhauser bought the general merchandise store from his brother Gus and operated it for 30 years before retiring at age 80. There are still several children and grandchildren of the Holzhauser brothers living in Portland.

With the building of better roads and highway transportation the railroad eventually died out. The steam boats became powerful diesel driven tow boats. Portland was no longer needed as a place to pick up supplies or to take on coal or wood for steam, and therefore became a skeleton of what it once had been.

Portland is still a nice, quiet and peaceful town, and anyone with a desire to live close to the river and nature will find it relaxing and a very enjoyable place to be and to raise a family.

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