History of Nebo, Illinois
The first white settlement made in what is now Spring Creek Township was by Silas Wilson in the year 1832 on Section eight, approximately two miles north of the present site of Nebo. He built a log cabin and made improvements on the land and lived there many years. Some of the other earliest settlers of the township were Benjamin Allison, David Scranton, Barnard Collins and J.P. Stark.
The first death was that of Joseph Collins in 1833. Rachel Collins was the first white child, born in 1835. Joel Meechem and Sarah Adkins were the first couple married, the ceremony being performed by the Rev. Levi Hinman (a Baptist minister, who also preached the first sermon) in the year 1833. F. A. Collard was the first Justice of the Peace, and John P. Stark was the first township supervisor when township government was established in 1850.
Records indicate that the first post office in Spring Creek Township was established on December 10, 1852. This seems to have been located in the Rock Hill area. It was called Monument and was discontinued in 1866. Nebo post office was established on September 16, 1857, about a mile south of the present village of Nebo. December 18, 1871 the post office was relocated within the village limits.
The name Nebo appears in the Bible fourteen times. It refers at various times to a city, a mountain, a Babylonian god and a person. There are a dozen Nebos throughout the United States. One of these, such as Nebo, Kentucky or Nebo, Pennsylvania could have been a factor in the naming of the village in Pike County.
The Chicago and Alton Railroad began construction of a railroad across south Pike County in the late 1860’s. The railroad was completed in 1871, at which time the village was laid out along the railroad. Peter Windmiller, a native of Germany, and William E. Smith were the ones who laid out the original village. Incorporation for the village of Nebo was filed with the county court July 3, 1885. The articles of incorporation were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State June 29, 1894.
Main Street was located on the north-south street where the railroad built the depot. Around 1890 the railroad was relocated to make an easier grade over the spine of Pike County. This relocation caused the depot to be moved from Main to Union Street, one block west. By 1899, nearly all of the business houses of Nebo had migrated from Main to Union Street, and Main Street was primarily a residential area. The oldest house in Nebo, a frame house, with log construction beneath it, still stands today (2011) at the NE corner of Main Street and Smith Alley.
On September 30, 1899 a fire started in Collard’s Restaurant, which was just south of the current Nebo Village Hall on the west side of Union Street. Dry conditions, wooden buildings, and the lack of any fire fighting equipment, caused the entire business area of Nebo (on Union Street) to be consumed by fire. The Bush Building (Opera House) at the NE corner of Union Street and Middle Street (often called Mill Street) was of brick construction, and was the only building on Union Street, north of Middle Street that was saved. More than 40 structures, including the Baptist Church, which was west of Union Street on what is now Franklin Street, were destroyed by the blaze.
The citizens of Nebo cleared the rubble and began to rebuild immediately. They did not request FEMA assistance or cry out for state and federal aid. The year 1899 is on the top front of the building south of the current post office, which was built by the Franklin brothers. The village board decided to widen Union Street by setting the new buildings back four feet on each side of the street. Most of the new buildings were constructed of brick or concrete blocks.
Nebo at the beginning of the Twentieth century was a thriving village of around 520 population. The village had two banks (the First National and the Minier State Bank), four or five physicians, one or two dentists, two hotels, six general stores, two hardware stores, one furniture and undertaker’s establishment, three restaurants, three barber shops, one livery stable, two poultry firms, two mills, a vinegar factory, two blacksmith shops, three harness shops, one newspaper, one millinery store, one lumber yard, one veterinary surgeon and a good two-story frame school building.
Six passenger trains and numerous freight trains stopped in Nebo daily. Farmers from miles around came into town to trade and ship and receive goods by railroad. A big factor in the business of Nebo were the people from North Calhoun who used to come into town on Saturdays. Calhoun was the only one of the 102 counties of Illinois that never had a railroad. Strout, Pearl and Pleasant Hill also prospered because of their locations on the railroad.
Probably Nebo’s biggest claim to fame occurred on October 10, 1911, when the Vin Fiz, the first airplane to fly coast-to-coast, landed just north of Hunter Cemetery on the east edge of town. Cal Rodgers, the daring pilot of the first flying machine ever seen in Pike County, circled the entire town, headed toward Hutton Hill, then turned back to land in the hayfield near the cemetery. The wind was out of the east, and favored his landing while heading east.
Literally everyone in the village of around 520 population heard and then saw the strange sight of a heavier-than-air flying machine. School children were let out, business owners, housewives—everyone—ran to the cemetery. One of the two banks was left unlocked with money in drawers, as tellers and clerks headed to see the Wright biplane landing at the very edge of the town.
The population of Nebo has declined during most of the twentieth century, and so far in the twenty-first century. There was some increase during the Depression decade of the 1930’s, when many Pike Countians returned home after losing jobs in cities such as Alton and Springfield. The end of the Great Depression, and the World War II demands for manpower brought a sharp decline in the population in the 1940’s.
Homer Boren sold his meat market in Pearl in 1923 to Lloyd Newnom, and moved his family to Nebo, where he opened a meat market in the Bush Building the same year. Borens store (sometimes including a restaurant) was a fixture in Nebo for nearly 70 years. Homer was in partnership with his son-in-law Kelly Branson for a few years prior to World War II in a building next to Smith Alley on the west side of Union Street.
In 1946, Homer’s son Bruce returned from wartime service in the U.S. Army, and went into partnership with Homer as H. Boren and Son. Burt and Irvin Booth remodeled two store buildings for a new grocery, meat market and locker plant next to the State Bank of Nebo, which was opened that same year.
The general decline of the farm population caused Nebo, like most of Illinois’ small towns, to begin to lose its economic base. The number of grocery stores declined from six in the 1940’s to just one in the late 1960’s.
In 1972, Michael Boren returned from wartime service in the U. S. Army, and went into partnership with his father Bruce Boren, as Boren and Son Red and White. Irvin Booth tore down the old Cozy Theatre, Booth Feed and Supply, the Legion Hall, and Dunaven’s old garage and service station and built a new 6000 square foot store that opened in October, 1972. It was sold to Bill and Diana Schultz in 1992 when Bruce retired. (Bruce Boren and Borens store had both been around 69+ years at that time.)
The brick school was built in 1917. It was four year high school for two years, then was only a three year high school until 1927, when it became a four year high school again. Around 1926 the gymnasium and auditorium were built on the south end of the building. A much larger gym was added to the north of the building in 1938. Declining enrollment necessitated the closing of Nebo High School in 1955, and the closing of Nebo Grade School in 1984. The brick school was torn down in 1992. The Nebo Community Club has preserved the gymnasium for the use of the village, and a new community building was built onto the north of the gym in 1993.
Due to the poor roads in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, people in Nebo found it much easier to trade in Louisiana, Missouri than the county seat of Pittsfield, because of the good rail service available to points west and east of Nebo. Lloyd Newnom, who grew up in Pearl around the end of the 19th Century, served in the Army during World War I. His famous quote was that he “was in Paris, France before he was ever in Pittsfield, Illinois.” The dirt and gravel roads that existed in the early part of the twentieth century were often extremely dusty or extremely muddy. Sometimes in winter and during the spring thaw the roads became literally impassable.
Nebo did not have a paved highway connecting to the outside world until the Nebo-Pleasant Hill county highway was completed in 1964. The county highway between Nebo and Pittsfield was completed around 1972, and the county highway between Nebo and Pearl was not completed until 1984. (County Highway number 10, from Highway 96 on the west, through Nebo to Highway 100 on the east, was officially named the “Vin Fiz Highway” in 1986 by the Pike County Board.)
Nebo had rail freight and passenger service well into the 1950’s. Until 1959, Nebo had two very small passenger trains stop at the village daily. The “noon train” arrived at 12:30, going east to west, and the “afternoon train” arrived at 2:19 p.m., going from west to east.
As mentioned above, Nebo had two banks at one time, the Minier State Bank and the First National Bank. The First National Bank acquired the Miner Bank prior to the Great Depression, but it was also forced to close during that difficult financial period in our nation’s history.
The State Bank of Nebo was organized in 1946. It became part of Corn Belt Bank, and the Nebo facility was closed in the late 1980’s. The State Bank of Nebo was robbed in 1959, with the armed robbers getting only $1071.00, as the main safe had a time lock, which could not be opened before business hours the next morning. Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Benz and their son Bill were tied up by the robbers in their home south of town. The robbers were later caught and sent to jail.
Several train derailments have occurred during the history of Nebo. A major one was in the fall of 1964 when a “transient” was killed as several cars derailed right in the Nebo village limits.
During its brief 140 year existence Nebo has never had a population much larger than 520. It currently (2016) stands at around 340.