Excerpts from The Cenntennial History of Hamilton County, by Bertha Bremer
Phillips was laid out by the Lincoln Townsite Company, as the result of the Burlington Railroad going through the area, and it was named by a railroad official on the Lincoln division. Thus ended the dreams of the little town of St. Joe, three miles southwest, ever grow-ing when the rail line passed north of them.
One small frame dwelling near the edge of a thriving cornfield was the first landmark of what ultimately became the village of Phillips, located in northwest Hamilton County. Cornstalks were cut and cleared by R. E. Dingman, long a well known figure, streets and alleys were marked out and the town was on its way in 1884. Shortly after the establishment of the railroad camps, one on the east bank of the Platte and the other two miles east of the new town site, homes and businesses began springing up almost miraculously. It had even been rumored that Phillips would become a railroad division.
Meanwhile the little town of St. Joe, only three years old, began to totter, with this news of the railroad. Surveyed and platted in 1881 by Joe Skelton, a postoffice was established, and those of Bunker Hill and Lincoln Valley discontinued. Located on the NE corner 9-10-8, the town had great visions for the future. In a brief three years it had two general stores, blacksmith shop, hotel of five rooms, postoffice and a town hall built by the people to serve every purpose from Sunday school and church, to dances, and political meetings. There were still other business places and numerous residences. Soon the businesses and many of the homes were transplanted into the new town with the railroad. Mr. Skelton had erred badly when he tried to sell right-of-way to the railroad and Frank Roach had offered them free route through his homestead. On July 7, 1886, the county com-missioners vacated the town of St. Joe and it reverted to the Skelton homestead. Major Skelton meanwhile had purchased the lots from the vacating residents - and St. Joe was no more!
Among the original business enterprises and professional men of the town were three general merchandise stores owned by Fairchild Brothers, M. K. Grass and Stephens, Myers and Son and Dr. Smith both had drug stores, two hardware stores were operated by Burke and Dingman and Harold Hardware, three lumber yards flourished as the town was building up. They were Richey Brothers, operated by J. C. Faught; White Pine Lumber Co. and Wilse lumberyard, managed by Charles Crane. F.R Reiter and Nels Dirsty formed a partnership and built many of the houses, schoolhouses and churches in the west part of the county.
Dr. Sanders was the first physician, Sam Spanogle was the first real estate agent, the first implement business was started by J. Van Boskirk, the first and only furniture store was owned and operated by Wm. Eckerson. The building was destroyed by fire around 1910, along with other buildings along the east side. The first hotel to become a regular business and which remained for a definite period was built and operated by Nelson E. Lane. An aggressive leader, Lane also had the first livery barn. When he went into the hardware business the livery and feed barn was purchased by C. W. Will-man and R. Rogers. Mr. Lane was the town’s first mayor.
J. W. Hiler and John Tye were the first grain buyers for the ele-vators erected by S. W. Little and Company and the Thomas Grain Company. Blacksmith shops were a vital part of the early community, and among those operating the Phillips shop were George Peterson, J. Monroe, Ben Web, Louis Canada, Wm. Hilpert, Lemuel Hulbert, J. Barr, Rasmussen and Jensen, and Wm. Casteel who was village "Smithy" for thirty-two years.
The first school, known as District 95, was started in 1886. About 1920 Phillips was recognized as having one of the finest consolidated schools in the state. Now the district has been discontinued due to state regulations with the high school students being sent to Aurora and Giltner Districts. While the grade school operates in Phillips, it is a branch of the Aurora School system.
The first garage was started by Charles Bondegard, the next by Kutchkau & Detamore, another by George E. Horn who was succeeded by Fast and Stinnette.
The Bank of Phillips was started in 1885 by George Proudfit, and further records state that it was owned and managed by J. O. Baker and Mr. Wenn. Later Wenn interests were sold to Mr. Burk. Holding Charter No. 593, the Bank of Phillips statement showed Wm. Glover as president and Harry Peard as cashier in 1905. It later became the property of W. I. Farley, he being succeeded by a number of farmers who were stockholders. Carl Carlson was cashier for some time, and succeeded by E. C. Huxtable as president and cashier. He remained until the bank was moved to Wood River in 1936. For some years he returned one day a week, then banking service ended. While the village became a thriving trade center in a short period, it was not incorporated until March 17, 1891. First board included Benj. F. Fulton, Alden Garwood, Frank England, Nels F. Lane, and Mathias Grass.
The business roster of Phillips of more than a half-century ago also included W. Bebb & Son, hardware and groceries; Dr. C. B. Coleman, physician; R. Connell & Co., owners of the first elevator; Levi Cox, stock buyer and justice of peace; Chas. Ellersick’s Steam Grist Mill; Fairchild & Garwood general store; Henry McCoy’s meat market; R. G. McKibben, druggist and school teacher; E. C. Purdy, manager Farmers’ elevator; Sorensen’s Opera House; Wm A. Chapman, windmill and plumbing dealer, succeeded by Ray Kirkpatrick; Frank Campbell barber shop; Homer Bowen drug; the last drug stores were operated by Gus Hald and W. A. Harrison; general stores were conducted by W. T. Dearing, Fred Schwartz, H. L. Yerkes and Ezra Devore. C. E. Coffey was proprietor of the local elevators for 20 years, selling his interests in 1920 to O. P. Baker.
Businesses of 45 years ago brought new names to the scene. They included W. R. Wadkins general store; D. Sorensen grocery and market; Arnett Bros., hardware owned by E. C. and Mrs. M. S. Ar-nett; Andrew Allen cream station; N. P. George Jensen blacksmith; Farmers Lumber Co., owned by Nelson Lumber Co. of Grand Island; A. S. Gilbert Service Station. Miss Hazel Killion was manager of the telephone exchange and J. W. Spencer was postmaster; H. L. Yerkes was rural carrier and continued in this until his retirement some years ago; M. J. Doll was Burlington agent.
Religious activities began with the organization of the Union Sunday school in which "Aunt Jane" Price and her brothers, Alonzo and John, were leaders, and out of which came the Methodist and Baptist Churches. Price was Hamilton county’s first school superintendent and traveled the entire county on horseback or foot to organize or visit the districts. "Aunt Jane" was considered an "Institution" in Hamilton County, with her outstanding personality and leadership. She was an authority on many subjects and throughout her lifetime was revered by a wide circle of friends and admirers.
The Phillips Methodist Church was organized at a conference held at Tecumseh in September 1884, the year the town was platted. Rev. George Jones was appointed to serve the St. Joe circuit which consisted of Phillips, Pleasant Hill schoolhouse, Bromfield and Seaton. From 1881 to 1886 the people attended church in the circuit.
Rev. Rowe served the church from 1886-1888 when the church was built. F.R. Reiter drafted the plans and with much willing help the church was completed. Jane Price, B.N. Miller and Henry England each gave $100 for building purposes, and the ladies of the society were each asked to give $.25. One woman earned her quarter by hand shelling 25 bushels of corn for a neighbor. In 1891 the charge was reorganized to include Pleasant Hill and Mt. Vernon with Rev. F. Ashpole as pastor. In the interim Rev. F. Deal served.
The official board in 1893-94 included Sarah Jane Price, Henry England, B.N. Miller, V. Horn, Wm. Ghomaly, W.R. McCullough and R.E. Hammond. Henry England and M.L. Huffman were Sunday school superintendents and stewards for the circuit were England, Huffman, Miller, Baker and Ida Short.
The first wedding in the church was that of Ethzelda Rush, a school teacher, and Marion F. Stanley on February 15, 1891. They were prominently identified in Aurora for many years where Mr. Stanley was an attorney. Both now rest in Phillips cemetery. The second wedding was that of Elva Killion and Giles Perry, February 1903.
First improvements of the church were completed in 1951, this consisted of digging a basement for needed room and also a kitchen. The next major improvement came under Rev. Foster, when an abandoned church was bought and moved to the east side of the church, and it was built into a sanctuary by willing hands.