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 livestock. 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 Wars I, and continues to be used for community activities. The high school was discontinued in 1966, and the beautiful three-story building was destroyed by fire in July 1986.
In 1884 Rev. G.M. Jones organized a Methodist Church in Phillips. The United Methodist Church of today remains strong, with its pastor also serving the Giltner Methodist congregation, as he has for many years. There was a Baptist Church organized in 1889, but the membership remained small and it no longer exists.
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. The lodge is still active with 75 members.
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 it 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 exceeded 300 residents, but decreased to under 200 during the 1930s. It remained at that level until the 1970s, when improved highways and new industries in Grand Island and Aurora brought a number of new families to the area, who preferred living in a smaller town. Phillips' population grew to 383 in the 1980s and is now over 400.
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.
Businesses present in the Phillips of today reflect the needs of a changing population. In addition to the post office, there is a good restaurant and lounge, several ag-related businesses and repair shops, and specialty stores. Phillips provides its residents with a good water supply, paved streets, and a pleasant atmosphere in which to live.
By Gerald E. Sherard, 429 South Moore Street, Lakewood, CO, 80226.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Sun Directory, 1890 & 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.E.Sherard, 1985; "The Phillips Advertiser"; and Carol J. Alloway, Phillips, information source.