Feeding into the 2,060-acre Raccoon Lake, formally called Cecil M. Harden Lake at the Raccoon State Recreation Area, Portland Mills is a shallow body of water straddling Parke and Putnam counties.
Evidence indicates Native Americans settled in this area long before the arrival of European settlers. Interestingly, there is a unique mill hole where it is believed Native Americans ground or milled corn using sticks and tree branches, launching a tradition that eventually gave the place its name.
Originally known as Portland, the town was one of the early communities settled in Putnam County. On the Cornstalk Covered Bridge page of this website, there is mention of Chief Cornstalk’s band of Shawnee traveling to this area to hunt and fish. It is believed that fur trappers and traders co-existed with Native Americans in the area prior to 1800.
In 1819, Chauncy Rose and Captain Andrew Brooks started construction of a grist mill, sawmill and distillery here and, by 1823, these were blossoming enterprises. Samuel Steele and his son built a dam across Big Raccoon Creek in 1825, and they also began operating a grist mill and sawmill, continuing efforts started by Native Americans decades earlier. It was at this time, however, that the name of the settlement became known as Portland Mills.
Today, Portland Mills is strictly used as a non-motorized boat launch for canoes and kayaks. Once on the water you can head south (southwest) into Raccoon Lake or head north (northeast) away from the busy lake and up Ramp Creek. Campsites line the road on either side as you near the boat ramp and are available year-round. Its geographic coordinates are 39°46′41″ N, 87°00′33″ W.