Within three years after Phillips was established, it became an important shipping point for grain and live stock.
Phillips is a town the railroad built. Located just over a mile south of the Platte River in northwest Hamilton County, a town site was purchased by the Lincoln Land Company from P.M. Cross in 1874. It was not platted until early in 1884, when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad extended westward from Aurora. It was named for Captain R.O. Phillips, who was in charge of establishing town sites for the land company.
While the primary part of town was owned by the land company, the remainder was owned by Hon. William G. Hastings of Wilber and several others. As the town grew, “St. Joe”, a village about two miles south that was bypassed by the railroad, abandoned its location and relocated in Phillips.
Within three years after Phillips was established, it became an important shipping point for grain and live stock. The B&MR ran from Plattsmouth via Lincoln and on into Wyoming. In 1887 Phillips had a bank, two lumberyards, three general stores, two elevators, a drug store, a hardware store, a livery business, a feed yard, and many other small shops and businesses.
The first school was a three-room building (grades 1-10) established in 1886. In 1915 several districts consolidated and a new K-12 school was built. Since few schools built at that time included a gymnasium, basketball was played in the assembly room on the second floor of the building. Phillips Memorial Hall was the community’s answer to the need for a gym. Built in 1940, it was dedicated to the veterans of World War I.
In 1884 Rev. G.M. Jones organized a Methodist Church in Phillips.
Beginning in 1918, Phillips had a band directed by Homer Pechin with 20 members. They marched in the annual Fourth of July parades and played at other community affairs. Phillips also had a GAR post and a Masonic Lodge.
There was also a newspaper from 1946 to 1972. In the early years Merle “Ted” Peard wrote and published a small four-page newspaper, distributed free. Called the “Phillips Bulletin,” it offered coverage of local news. Later is was renamed the “Phillips Advertiser” and covered news of Phillips and from nearby communities.
Phillips’ population has fluctuated greatly over the years. In 1910-20 it exceed 300 residents, but decreased to under 200 during the 1930s.
Perhaps the most significant change in Phillips took place when the Burlington Railroad rerouted its tracks which originally came through the middle of town just north of the business area. During World War I many troop trains passed through town, as did freight trains needed to supply the war effort. The deep grade needed to bring it to that part of town caused a great deal of trouble for the freights that also had to stop at the stock yards. In 1918 the tracks were moved and a new depot was built just south of town. At its peak, six passenger trains provided service for the citizens of Phillips every day. While freight service is still available, trains do not interfere with the downtown traffic of the community.
A landmark on main street is a tower on which the town’s old fire bell is mounted. Used in the early years to alert citizens of fire, it now stands as a tribute to the pioneers who settled in Phillips.
From Nebraska Our Towns: Central Southeast - article by Gerald E. Sherard 1987
Edits and updates by the Plainsman Museum 2018, to reflect our mission.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Sun Directory, 1896 &1897; Adams, Clay, Hall, & Hamilton Counties Memoirs 1890; Atlas & Platte Book, 1888, 1916, 1903, 1923; Hamilton County: the Garden Spot of the State, C.L.Hall 1887; History of Hamilton & Clay Counties, Dale P. Stough, 1921; History of Hamilton Co, HCHS, 1936; Centennial History of Hamilton Co 1967; Hamilton County Nebraska Indexes, G.G. Sherard, 1985; “The Phillips Advertiser”; and Carol J. Alloway, Phillips, information source.
OUR MISSION: The Plainsman Museum is a not-for-profit institution, which focuses on the time from 1860-1950, that collects, preserves, illustrates, and works to establish the History of Hamilton County, Nebraska, through education, exhibits, research, and maintenance of relevant archives and collections.