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March 27, 1889: Phillips County celebrates 125th PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   
With humble beginnings on the flat, treeless plains of northeast Colorado, Phillips County celebrates its 125th anniversary Thursday, March 27, while proudly looking back to its history from 1889 to 2014.

This roughly 688-square-mile chunk of land was once home to buffalo and then cattle herds, which roamed the prairie as the Colorado Territory was introduced in 1861 and Weld County, one of the original 17 Colorado counties, encompassed the entire northeast corner.

Colorado became a state and entered the union Aug. 1, 1876.

Homesteaders began to settle in the Frenchman Creek area in the mid-1880s to claim free land from the United States government through the Homestead Act of 1865. They dotted the prairie with the establishment of their sod houses and began to fence off their land.

Some have observed that this region was settled later than others nearby, probably because there are no rivers.

Logan County was created from a legislative act in February 1887, taking over the northeast corner of Colorado and again encompassing present-day Phillips County.



The Burlington-Missouri Railroad was instrumental in bringing homesteaders to Phillips County. The rail was laid in northeast Colorado in 1887 with a town site every 8-10 miles—Amherst, Holyoke, Paoli and Haxtun. The round house is pictured at the Holyoke train depot.


Activity really began to take off in the region when the railroad rolled in. More homesteaders came when the Burlington-Missouri Railroad was built from Holdrege, Neb., to Sterling.

Construction commenced in the eastern part of the county in March 1887 and was completed to Sterling in September of that year.

The B&M Railroad provided a town site every 8 to 10 miles along the track. Thus Amherst, Holyoke, Paoli and Haxtun began to take shape and were named by officials of the railroad company.

On March 27, 1889, the eastern section of Logan County was divided to form Sedgwick and Phillips counties.

Phillips County was named in honor of R.O. Phillips, secretary of the Lincoln Land Company that laid out a number of towns in this part of the country, and the 125-year history of Phillips County began.


Agriculture has always been an important aspect of life in Phillips County, from its 1880s beginnings to today. Sod houses dotted the prairie as settler families took great care to farm the land and raise their livestock.


County government established

Election precincts were established in Phillips County July 8, 1889, and an election was called for in November.

A week later, county court convened with Judge J.H. Painter on the bench, commencing the judicial system of the county court in Phillips County.

In November 1889, the following county officers were elected:

Commissioners John C. Elder, M. Francis and Theodore Chalbery; Sheriff L.C. Witherbee; Clerk and Recorder C.E. McPherson; Judge James Glynn; Treasurer B.A. Hoskins; Assessor Otis Castetter; Superintendent of Schools Charles B. Timberlake; Surveyor William Lowe; and Coroner L.P. Lewis.

Holyoke was named the county seat.



The former B&M eating house, originally located by the railroad depot, served as the Phillips County Courthouse from 1904 to 1935. When it was purchased for $3,000, it was moved to the current Phillips County square, the 200 block of South Interocean Avenue.


Three courthouses serve Phillips County

The first Phillips County Courthouse was a hotel building on the corner of Baxter Avenue and Denver Street, which was built by William Clemmons and rented to the county in 1889. The county bought the building in 1901 and continued to use it until 1904.

The famed B&M eating house located by the railroad depot became the second courthouse. Its doors were closed in 1899, and the county bought the building in 1904 for $3,000. At that point, the county also purchased the present courthouse block, the 200 block of South Interocean Avenue.

The former eating house was moved to this new courthouse square at a cost of $1,000 with a team of horses. The T-shaped building would serve as the courthouse for 31 years, with its polished floor of fine woods and a fireplace at one end.

In 1924, a one-fourth mill levy was created to finance a new courthouse, but in 1931, due to the economic situation, the commissioners discontinued the expense to taxpayers. The fund, however, grew to $27,319.17.



The current Phillips County Courthouse was built in 1935-36, with Colorado Gov. Ed C. Johnson present for the laying of the cornerstone ceremonies on Sept. 13, 1935.


In January 1934, the Public Works Administration allotted Phillips County $53,000, of which about $23,000 was a grant and the remainder a loan.

A bond issue was required, so in the November 1934 election, in a 462-298 vote, the county approved a $26,000 bond issue to meet the federal grant.

In 1935, Walter Knudsen was awarded the contract to build a new county courthouse. Razing of the old building began June 17, 1935, and on Sept. 13, 1935, the cornerstone of the present-day courthouse was laid.

Colorado Gov. Ed C. Johnson was there for the ceremonies conducted by the Holyoke and Haxtun Masonic lodges. Johnson and Supreme Court Justice Hazlet P. Burke spoke to a crowd of approximately 1,000 people at the ceremony.

The new building was accepted by county commissioners on May 8, 1936, and all offices were open for business in the new facility the following week.

This structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 10, 2007.


Settlements, post offices, schools dot Phillips County land

Phillips County has never been large—by population or by square miles—but the towns and communities that have been established in the county all have a rich history and are the places that many call home.

Holyoke was the first to be incorporated at an election held April 24, 1888.

Haxtun was incorporated July 1, 1909, with Paoli following 20 years later, Aug. 6, 1929.

All of these establishments, as well as Amherst, were laid out along the railroad in the mid-1880s.

Another railroad branch was proposed from Holyoke to Akron, but it never materialized. Therefore, settlers in the small town of Bryant, about 12 miles south of Haxtun, which would have been on that railroad, moved their buildings to Haxtun.

Located 7 1/2 miles west and 4 south of Holyoke, Emerson found itself in the same situation as Bryant along the never-completed Holyoke-Akron rail. Emerson, along with the settlement of Wakeman—7 miles east and 3 miles south of Holyoke—eventually disappeared as well.

Since homesteaders were many miles from the nearest town, rural communities were also established, such as Fairfield and Pleasant Valley, as families came together for church, baseball and other activities.



Phillips County, Colorado


Communication with friends and relatives “back home” was important to settlers in early county history. Therefore, several post offices were located across the county.

Post offices and their start dates on record include Wakeman, September 1887; Holyoke, November 1887; Amherst, February 1888; Bryant, March 1888; Emerson, March 1888; Haxtum/Haxtun, April 1888; Paoli, June 1888; and Starr, February 1907.

Currently, three post offices serve Phillips County in Amherst, Holyoke and Haxtun.

As families began to settle in Phillips County, schools started to pop up along the northeast Colorado prairie.

By 1897, Phillips County had 36 separate school districts—a number that remained fairly static until 1947, when the number of districts began to dwindle. The county was reorganized in 1960, with 12 school districts in operation.

Most rural schools were grades 1-8, with branch high schools at Highland Center, Amherst, Paoli, Fairfield and Amitie. After two years there, students could continue at Phillips County High School in Holyoke.

Phillips County School Districts, in order of district number, included Fairview, Amherst, Sunnyside, Green Prairie, Pleasant Valley, Highland Center, Prairie Star, Evergreen, Hilltop, Sunbeam, Plainview, Mc­Kelvey, Pleasant Prairie, Pleasant View, Silverbeam, Sunny Dale, Beachville, Grandview, Harmony, Prairie Gem, White Star, Highline, Holyoke, Liberty, Fairfield, Morning View, Fairy Dell, Philorado, Meakins/Glenwood, Morning Star, Amitie, Paoli, Communty Center, Broadway, Lone Star, Lakeside, Haxtun and North Star.

Today, Phillips County has two school districts in Holyoke and Haxtun.


Phillips County officials gather together for a photo in 1931. They are pictured from left, front row, Hattie Cole Lingo, librarian; Estelle Brinkley Sanders, deputy assessor; Florence Stack Silligman, clerk of county court; Edna Youtsey, superintendent of schools; Edith Correll, clerk and recorder; and Geneva Behnfeldt Hassler, deputy clerk of district court; second row, Mrs. Chas. Morris, janitor; R. Claymon, commissioner; Ed W. James, bailiff district court; Steve J. Meakins, commissioner; Frank McElroy, yard caretaker; Henry C. Hargreaves, deputy treasurer; Thomas Hargreaves, treasurer; and Olin H. Helland, clerk district court; and back row, Smith S. Worley, judge; A.C. Correll, clerk and recorder; John Sandquist, commissioner; Frank A. Berger, sheriff; Roy E. Owens, assessor; and Ben L. Garman, attorney.


County marks 125th anniversary

While it was the railroad that really kicked off activity in northeast Colorado, the agriculture industry as well as other strong businesses keep the people of Phillips County thriving in 2014, its 125th year.

As of the 2010 census, the population of Phillips County was 4,442 people—the people who work hard to make the county what it is today.

“We celebrate what we as a county can provide to our citizens,” said current Phillips County Commissioners Harlan Stern, Don Lock and Joe Kinnie.

“We celebrate you, the hearty souls who continue to invest yourselves and continue to make this a great place to live. We delight in seeing our children raised with rural values and a great work ethic. Throughout the year of 2014, we hope to celebrate 125 years.”


Current officials at the Phillips County Courthouse are pictured from left, Administrator Randy Schafer, Commissioner Joe Kinnie, Commissioner Harlan Stern, Commissioner Don Lock, Assessor Doug Kamery, Treasurer Linda Statz and Clerk and Recorder Beth Zilla.


Holyoke Enterprise March 27, 2014