by Engineer Dan Holloway, Porterville Fire Department
It was the fall of 1858 when the Butterfield Overland Stage Line established a stage stop at Goodhue’s Crossing near the Tule River, a site that would eventually become known as the City of Porterville. “That stage stop – the Tule River Station – is what started the town,” explains local historian Bill Horst.
Porter Putnam, founder of Porterville, first traveled by the Tule River on December 7, 1858, on his way from the Kern River Station near Bakersfield to Visalia. An entry from Porter Putnam’s journal describes the journey, “Country damned rough. Weather very cold. Stage riding is disagreeable. Plenty of whiskey aboard, a jolly set.”
Porter Putnam decided to take up ranching after living in the Visalia area, and moved to an area northwest of Lindsay, where he primarily ran hogs on land between what is now Lindsay and Exeter. About May 1, 1860, Porter Putnam moved his livestock operation to the Tule River and opened a 'trading place' at Goodhue's Crossing, on the Tule River. Today, this is in the area of the railroad tracks and Henderson Ave. above Zalud Park.
Despite the rough country and cold weather, Putnam came to view the site as an ideal location for a town. It was located on California’s main north-south route on the east side of the Valley. In the 1860’s, more than 10,000 people a year passed through on the immigrant trail. “Water was in such demand by travelers that the Tule River became a stopping place,” said Jeff Edwards, owner of Edwards Antiques & Gallery and local historian.
During the winter of 1861-1862, it rained for weeks. That winter was the wettest ever known, with over 20 inches of rain. The entire valley was flooded. Willows, brush, timber and debris piled up in the flatland, blocking the river channel. The Tule River originally followed the course of the present-day Porter Slough, but turned north at Third Street and angled toward Main Street as it made its way toward Henderson Avenue. Henderson formed the north bank of the river. Disaster struck one cold night in January when the river overflowed its banks and broke through the countryside, developing a new river bed. When the floodwaters subsided, the Tule River had permanently changed its course and was flowing a mile south of its original river bed. That river bed still exists today.