History of Philo

The village of Philo is located in Champaign County, Illinois.  Here we look back upon its history, its first settlers and the many who over the years, through hard work and perseverance, have made this county one of the richest and most progressive in the state.  The village of Philo looks forward to greater challenges and opportunities in the future.

Champaign County was formed as hunters and trappers migrated from the east and begin settling the prairie lands, immersing themselves among the native americans.  For more background on the formation of Champaign County see this page.

Philo Named for Philo Hale

Philo Hale, an eastern land speculator, bought the first land in Philo Township in 1837, in Section 15, Township 18, Range 9.  He purchased the land from squatters Gilliland and bought other land later from Vandeveer, expecting the railroad to cross near Yankee Ridge. The proposed “Northern Cross Railroad” which was to be built from Danville to Springfield failed to materialize.

He also bought the west one-half of Section 23 in Philo Township, which contains virtually all the present village.  This land was purchased from the United States Government, by Patent, dated October 13, 1839 and signed by President Martin Van Buren, by M. Van Buren, Jr. and Secretary H.M. Garland, Recorder of the General Land Office.

He also by certified copy of Patent, dated November 1, 1839, obtained E 1/2 SW of Section 14, containing 80 acres.

Mr. Hale, at the time of his death, owned 1360 acres in this area. He died October 29, 1847, at Decatur, in Macon County.

Hale Township Changed to Philo

Up until 1859, Champaign County was governed by a County Court. In the year 1859 the township plan was adopted. Original townships were East Bend, Hale, Middletown, Middle Fork, Newcomb, Pleasant Hill, Peru, Rantoul, St. Joseph, Sidney, South Homer, Sadorus, Tolono, Urbana and West Urbana.

In 1861, Hale township was changed to Philo At the same time, Middle Fork was changed to Kerr, Pleasant Hill to Somer and West Urbana to Champaign.

Village of Philo

The Village of Philo was laid out by the son of Philo Hale, E.B. Hale, in 1864 and included 80 acres. The Wabash Railroad in Illinois was based on the Old Northern Cross Railroad, as a part of the Internal Improvement scheme in 1837. The first section was operated for a time by mules, but it was abandoned as an enterprize ahead of the times and was unprofitable.

In 1847 the line sold and the Sangamon and Morgan Railroad reconstructed the part of the road, which opened for business in 1849.

It wasn’t until 1856, when several Ohio and Indiana companies were consolidated as the Toledo, Wabash and Western Railroad, that the railroad was built through southern Champaign County. Philo, midway between Sidney and Tolono, was originally called the Summit by the railroad, because of the elevation; it sometimes took two engines to pull the train. In 1858, Philo settlers petitioned that the railroad station stop be called Philo.

At the Philo Township election of 1859 or 1860, which was held at “Hale Bowses Grove, it was decided to hold future meetings at the Philo Station on the Great Western.

In 1889, the Great Western became the Wabash, famous for songs and cannon balls. Tle “Cannon Ball” would stop in Philo for passengers, originating at or going to St. Louis or Detroit.

During the early years, before the automobile, passengers could travel from Philo to Champaign (via Sidney and the branch line) three times each day, morning, noon and evening.

Village of Philo Incorporation

The village of Philo was incorporated April 19, 1875. The certificate of Incorporation was issued July 10, 1875. Members of the first town council were president T.H. Metheny in 1870 and J. Bames was clerk in 1871.

Elam Elithrop built the first house in Philo, which stood where the home of John Cain now stands. Wright, the station agent, built the second house, the only one between Route 130 and the depot. The oldest house in Philo, now occupied by the Floyd Cross family, on the comer of Washington and Jackson Street was built and occupied by Michael Walsh, when there were only three houses on the present site of Philo.

The Mr. Wright mentioned above was the first agent for the Toledo, Wabash and Western railroad. The house which he built was used for a depot and passenger house. Elithrop’s first house was later used for a harness shop.

From Lathrop’s Champaign County Directory we read that in 1870 Philo had “a fine school house, two churches, one mill, eight stores, three blacksmith shops, two hotels, two grain dealers with warehouses, and one lumber yard.” It also reports that Philo’s citizens are energetic, go ahead and thriving people.”

Settlers through 1875

It is said that after the railroads went through, and especially after the Civil War, that many people came to this region, taking up 40 or 80 acres, working it for a while, and sometimes, then selling it and going elsewhere. Many stayed and gradually added to their land, cultivating and improving it as much as possible.

he pioneers began with little patches of corn which they took care of during the summer, and had gardens to supply their needs.  Some early settlers even grew flax and cotton, so they could make their clothing, which did not prove practical later when goods could be bought.  They also hunted, and had hogs, cattle and chickens. Their nearest trading post was Eugene, Indiana, sixty miles away.  During a surplus of wheat, oats or corn, or when their animals were ready for market, they either made a trip to Indiana or to the trading post on Lake Michigan-Chicago.

There was a great deal of cattle herding in the early days.  Cattle were still driven from the farms to the railroad until trucks came into use. Every town had a stockyard, for cattle and hogs, where they were kept until loaded on the train.

Other early settlers of Philo included Horace Arnold also came in the ’50’s, in 1857; as well as Samuel Brown, in Crittenden Township, in 1858, he later moved to Philo township; and there were also the J.C. Fords, Hoovers, W.G. Carson, and a William Martin Ellars, who was later postmaster in Philo.

Original Town of Philo

For the rural community the turn of the century found no immediate change of its life style. Oats and rye were raised in addition to wheat and corn. Some wheat was saved from the crop and carried to the miller for flour. Seed for the next year’s corn crop was saved from the harvest and on occasion some ears of corn were exchanged with another farmer in hopes of improving the strain of seed corn.

Rural mail delivery began about 1903. Until then the mail was held at the post office until the patron “went to town”. Any packages arrived at the railroad express office. Some of the early rural mail carriers were: James Bocock, Vernon Penny, Charles Stewart and Abbott Duell.

The Budget newspaper was being printed in Philo every Friday for approximately 400 patrons. It was a four-page 13x2O paper, subscriptions were $1.20 a year and Mont Robinson was editor and publisher.

The first telephone exchange in town was located in Father Barry’s home about 1902. His housekeeper acted as operator for the service between the rectory and the families of the Bongard parish. Soon after, Mr. J.B. Carson had a telephone exchange service, operated until it was taken over by the Eastern Illinois Telephone Corporation.

The Commercial Bank was established in 1902, with Isaac Raymond as president.

First Automobiles in Philo

When some of our older citizens were asked to recall the first automobile they saw and what makes they were we received quite a list of names. The earliest cars in Philo were: “Winston”, owned by Mr. Weaver; “Buick” owned by Dr. Scheurich; and “Thomas Flyer” owned by Frank Cain.

Mr. Martin Clennon remembers how he admired the new car owned by Jerry Horgan, store keeper in Philo. Jerry demonstrated the car to Mr. Clennon, allowing him to drive it around in a pasture. He took him to Champaign where Mr. Clennon bought a “Haynes” and drove it home. Most early cars were not driven in the winter because of the muddy roads and antifreeze had not been put into use. They “jacked” the cars up in the winter and left them in the garage. The operator’s manual wasn’t quite specific enough for some of the cars and it took ingenuity for the owners to realize that horses could pull it to get it started or sometimes pull it through a section of bad roads.

4th of July 1909

Independence Day in 1909 was celebrated at Lynn Grove. Music was furnished by the Sidney band. Tim Sullivan lined up the “Longview Invincibles” to play a baseball game against the “Philo Never Sweats”. Some of the other amusements arranged and the prizes given were:

Fatman’s race, box of cigars; Young men’s 50 yd. dash, box of cigars; Young ladies race, box of stationery; Sack race-young boys, $1.00; Fat woman’s race, parosol; Girls under 12 race, $1.00.

Five dollars was offered by John Daly for the best decorated car.

Mike Lowry offered $2.00 cash for the largest family present.

Philo Fire of 1909

On Wednesday night August 17, 1909, there was a fire on the north side of Main Street in Philo. Here is a summary of the story of the tragic event and damages as reported in the newspaper. Fire was seen in the Rickey Office about eleven o’clock.

John Grothe and others ran about town giving the alarm. Soon all church bells were ringing and the town was thoroughly aroused. When flames reached the telephone exchange, connections with the outside world were broken for Agent Dixon was at Sidney and no telegraph service could be had. W.H. and Ed Rickey were at a banquet in Sidney and the building had not been occupied since 1 p.m. Wednesday (same day).

L.W. Michener was struck on the head by a bucket falling from the Reed Building and received a bad cut. Many others received injuries.

The businesses that burned were: Rickey Furniture Store, Melohn Poultry House, Grothe Shoe Store, Wimmer Grocery Store, Telephone Building, Reed Meat Market, Stearns Ice House and Warehouse, Michael Lowry Restaurant, Brelsford Barber Shop, Hazen and Franks Lumber.

John Wimmer rescued all of his goods with the exception of $75. worth of stock and fixtures. The Grothe shoe stock was saved and also the tools and fixtures in the Brelsford Barber Shop. There was no insurance on some of the losses, however many of them were rebuilt.

Interesting Events from 1910 to 1918

The Commercial Bank became a private bank in 1910, with C.A. Daly as president.

Sometime around 1910 two trains were stalled during a severe snow storm and blizzard. One was a short distance west of town “in the cut” and the other was about one half mile east of town. Lowry’s restaurant provided coffee and sandwiches for the passengers and the food was taken out to the trains by volunteers for the two days the trains were stalled.

According to the “Philo Pilot” July 14, 1911. “The Village council turned down the application of Harve Baker of Tolono for a license to conduct a poolroom.

A committee of three aldermen was appointed to investigate the proposition of purchasing 10 gasoline street lights”.

The town had not yet purchased the street lights in August when the “Pilot” reminded them that Sidney had had lights for over one year.

The town football team played in Penman’s pasture and the town baseball team also used the pasture from 1912 to about 1917.

For the cultural improvement of the village the Chautauqua arrived in town for a week and the meetings were held on the school grounds in 1915.

The Prairie Farmer Reliable Directory of 1917 listed only one farmer who owned a tractor.

After Philo recovered from the fire on the north side of Main Street, fire struck on the south side in 1917. Four frame buildings, the post office, meat market, confectionery and another small shop were razed.

The first electricity in Philo was run by a gasoline generator. It was operated this way for ten years.

Between 1914 and 1918 bond rallies were held and Red Cross classes met in the “Red Front” building. Miss Sue Ennis, a tireless worker was in charge and Philo was justly proud of its Red Cross record.


This concludes the earliest information we have on the settlers of Philo, Illinois.   As we find more information, we hope to update this page