Bernice lies along the west bank of the Horse Creek branch of Grand Lake of The Cherokees, on State Highway 85A, fourteen miles northwest of Grove, in Delaware County. The present town site was platted on December 20, 1939, after the state decided to build the Pensacola Dam on the Grand River. Because the project placed the original town of Bernice in a flood plain, Gove Bunch, owner of the Bernice Mercantile Company, and other citizens found a new site.
The old town of Bernice originated in 1912 when Rose Mode and his partner, Charles Lee, bought sixty acres of land and platted the town in the Horse Creek Basin along the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway (later the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway). The town name honored Mode's daughter. Bernice acquired a post office on February 12, 1913. The village became an agricultural and railroad community, supplying commodities and services to northeastern Delaware County. Approximately four hundred people lived in the original town, which by 1918 boasted a bank, milliner, grain elevator, sawmill, hotel, flour mill, three general stores, and other businesses. The 1920 population stood at 198, declining to 162 by 1930.
In 1940 the Grand River Dam Authority completed the Pensacola Dam. By the summer of 1940 buildings and homes that could be salvaged were removed from old Bernice, and landowners surrendered their property to the waters of the Grand Lake of The Cherokees. The 1940 population registered ninety-one but ascended to 318 by 1980.
In 2000 Bernice, known as "the Crappie Fishing Capital of the World," was a recreation and retirement community with a population of 504 citizens. The oldest recreational business, Indian Hills Resort, was established in 1940. Other businesses include sports and convenience stores, resorts and motels, and restaurants. Bernice State Park, located one-half mile east of town, and a handicapped-accessible fishing docks located off the Horse Creek Bridge, enhance this recreation-oriented community.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jean E. Bohannan, comp. and ed., Claude Hanna Retraces Memory's Road (Grove, Okla.: Memory Road Inc., 1976). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 7 January 1940. Heritage of the Hills: A Delaware County History (Jay, Okla.: Delaware County Historical Society, Inc., 1979). George H. Shirk, "The Post Offices of Oklahoma, 1907 to 1965," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Spring 1966).
© Oklahoma Historical Society