EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, written in 1986 by Kevin Erb for the Southern Champaign County Today newspaper is enhanced with color pictures taken in 2011.
“Ghost Town”... the very words evoke images of dilapidated, deserted buildings, the ‘Last Chance” Saloon, the Old West. But wait. There are ghost towns in Central Illinois, even in Sidney Township.
The most ‘unknown’ ghost town in Sidney Township was Johnstown. Johnstown was located in the southwest corner of section 17, but it was never a platted town. It did have a hardware store. The store was in the home of John Mumm. He carried bolts and other tools needed by local farmers. No other businesses ever developed in this area.
|Four Ghost Towns. The 1913 Atlas of Champaign County shows the locations of four ghost town in the Sidney area: Deers, Rutherford, Johnstown and Block.|
Deers or Deer’s Station is more familiar to local residents. It was named for the Deere family who owned land in the area. Deers is located 2 miles west and 2 miles north of Sidney along the Wabash spur to Champaign-Urbana in the northwest corner of section 6. Businesses which operated in Deers included a blacksmith, a stockyard, the railroad depot, a general store, and an elevator. A post office was installed at Deers December 22, 1887. The first postmaster at Deers was Mr. Link Houser. The office was removed on February 13, 1913. At one time, ten trains stopped each day at Deers for freight and/or passengers. Deers today consists only of two houses and the elevator, used now only for storage.
|Someone in Deers, Illinois has a sense of humor. The elevator is gone but there are still two houses.|
In the year 1902-1903 the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad surveyed through parts of Douglas, Champaign, Vermilion and Iroquois County, Illinois. This track was known as the Woodland Cutoff. The advantage of this line was that it by-passed Danville, and it provided a more direct route to Chicago. When the railroad was built across section 33 of Sidney Township, the Block family, who owned the section, decided to plat a town along the right-of-way. To no one’s surprise, the town was named ‘Block’, although the Sidney Times referred to it as ‘Blockville,’ ‘Block Station’ or ‘Block’s Town’.
|Block Depot. The Block depot was located just south of Green Street next to the railroad track. Photo courtesy of Everett Block.|
Even before the town was platted, a liquor establishment was built in the vicinity of the proposed village. Not much is known about this tavern or who owned it, except that it was burned down by the owner’s wife, because the owner was constantly drunk.
Block Station, Illinois is located four miles south and one mile west of Sidney. It was founded by The Block family when the C & El (Chicago and Eastern Illinois) railroad built the line through their land. A member of the Block family donated land along the right-of- way for a depot and soon platted a town. Residents of the Block area could board the train and go directly to St. Louis or Chicago. On July 9, 1904, E.F. Block auctioned off 12 lots in the new town for about $81 each. At the end of the auction, tickets were passed out to all present. Then two tickets were drawn. The winners were to receive one of two choice lots. One of the winners was Mr. Joseph Robertson of Sidney. He finally sold it for $20 a few years later. Only two houses were ever built on the plot and these are still standing. Block had a store owned and operated by C.J. Dahl, a stockyard, a tavern, a garage and gas station (operated by Floyd Erb) and two elevators, one operated by the Cole family and the other by Joseph Kuhn and Co. of Champaign. The one owned by the Cole family burned in the 1920’s. The Dahl store also burned in the 1920’s and was not rebuilt.
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|Block, Illinois Plat. The 1913 Atlas of Champaign County showed what Block was meant to become.|
The village of Block didn’t have a church or a school. This is because in the mid-1800’s William Block donated land for a school in the northwest corner of section 33. This was known as the Block school. In March of 1884 August Block donated land across the road north of the school for St. Paul’s Church, commonly referred to as the “Block Church”. It merged with the Sidney Presbyterian Church in 1968 and the church building was torn down.
Floyd Erb built a garage and gas station in 1934. It lasted until 1940 when he was forced out of the business because of ill health. He then remodeled the garage into a store. It was operated until around 1960, selling a variety of groceries, and dry goods.
The official plat of Block was vacated by the county in 1979 at the request of members of the Block family who were still paying city taxes on the town. The town and immediate surrounding area has a population of about 15 people. The elevator is still there, along with a fertilizer plant which stands on the site of the Cole elevator. Mr. Erb’s store building has since been remodeled into apartments. Main Street and most of the town has reverted back to farmland. Green Street remains as an access road to the elevator and fertilizer plant, as does the railroad.
|Block Station Apartments still has the look of Mr. Erb’s store. (Picture taken in 2011)|
Floyd Erb still lives, planting the railroad right-of-way in flowers each year. This seems a fitting tribute to a town which never developed.
|This grain elevator still stands at Block, Illinois.|
The fourth of the “Quad Cities” Rutherford, will be covered in a later article.