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Myra, IL Part II: Myra Station - Historic Expansion and a Tragic End

By Will Best

Henry Newton Pell’s Elevator

Before we continue forward with our story it’s important to take a quick look back at the elevator during Henry Newton Pell’s ownership and how it grew to be the community hub that it became known as. After the debacle regarding the Silver Family conflict over the contents of John and Myra’s wills, Fred Silver sold the elevator in 1909 to Henry Newton Pell. He’ll be referred to as Newton Pell moving forward in the paper as he is primarily referred to as Newton in local newspaper publications. He would oversee the elevator’s operations and would take up overseeing the station seated at the base of the towering structure. Pell in April of 1913 began to improve the elevator’s facilities and would start to introduce more machinery and remodel the office building located at the base of the grain bins. Later that year he would face a rather harsh prank that was speculated to be perpetrated by a few local kids. On Saturday, August 9th, 1913 Pell discovered that over 500 bushels of oats had been put into a grain bin storing wheat making the entire batch unusable (1). After the incident, the elevator would once again fade from publications as business continued as usual for Pell and Myra Station until the late 1910s. 

In June of 1917, local farmers around the county were raising funds to support troops who were heading to war in Europe. Farmers including Pell and Lewis Prather formed a committee to boost support for the Liberty Loan program put forth by the United States Government (2)

Figure 1: Urbana Daily Courier

Taken from Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection

Spurred by the committee, families in the area of Myra Station raised $6,800, roughly $150,000 today. Later that same year the first recorded automobile accident occurred on the curve that ran East on Windsor Road running South onto Route 130 (Highcross Road). Elmer White driving home to Mayview collided with another car driven by Fred Porter. While the accident left both vehicles damaged neither White nor Porter were severely injured (3).

Two years later the elevator would once again be back in the local news with a rather entertaining article filled with naval puns. In May of 1919, a Sherrick of Ivesdale was pursued by the Champaign Police Department after driving drunk in downtown Champaign (4). Captain Isaac McDade and Officer Gleason pursued the driver through the twin cities and out to the East. Sherrick’s vehicle got stuck in a ditch near Myra Station and Sheriff Davis and Captain McDade surrounded and arrested him.

Figure 2: Champaign Daily News

Taken from the Illinois Digital Newspaper Archives

At the end of that year, the elevator was robbed. Discovered by Pell on the morning of Christmas Eve a “yegg” meaning safecracker used a crowbar to break the safe in the grain elevator offices open looking for money. However, he did not keep any physical money in the safe as he made his transactions by check and the only thing of value in the safe was notes for purchase and other valuable papers that had not been taken (5). The same robbers traveled along the Wabash Railroad to the Southeast and robbed the general store at Deers and a meat market in Sidney. They would not be captured however the reporter mocked the criminals as it should have been obvious that elevators do not deal in cash transactions. 

The elevator would change management sometime in early 1920, as in 1922 Robert Price appears as the person in charge of the elevator at Myra Station (6). However, there is no bill of sale or notice of change of management that can be found. In the 1920s efforts began to improve the road quality around Myra Station along Windsor Road as concrete would be laid down to level the road and increase its durability.

Myra Station in the 1930s

The elevator under Price’s supposed management is unknown; however, the station once again appears in the mid-1930s when the Phi Delta Theta fraternity arrived at the station late one night. In 1934 ten University of Illinois students were preparing for homecoming celebrations looking for firewood for a bonfire. They first went to Willard School, directed by Jesse Prather, a mile East of Myra Station, and broke down a hogpen and an outhouse before turning their attention to the Station (7). While no one was at Willard School to stop the boys they were encountered at Myra Station by the elevator watchman Earl T Werts (referred to as E T Werts, or Tom Werts). He ordered the boys to stop and when the order was ignored Werts fired a shotgun at the group and struck two of the fraternity members. His shot hit E F Haywood in the neck and cheek and Robert Strauch also in the cheek. The two would later be taken to McKinley Hospital for treatment. The remaining eight students were taken to the police station in Urbana and released on bond. Both Prather and Werts were called in to appear at the hearing. 

That same year marked the first year of the annual gathering just to the East of Myra Station. Held on the farm of Cecil Hudson this opportunity allowed those in the rural community to gather for a picnic and generally concluded with a baseball game at the diamond on the farm (8). That year including the festivities was a stunt flying show and a horsemanship show held by members of the 106th Cavalry. More than 2,500 people from around the county were in attendance. 

The following year would see similar activities. Once again the annual picnic was held with much anticipation at the Hudson farm. Once again the 106th would be in attendance with 25 members for another horsemanship exhibition. In addition, more activities were included with a motorcycle polo game and horse and donkey races (9). More than 2,000 people attended.

At the end of the decade, the Silver family would once again attain ownership of the elevator at Myra Station when two sons of Fred Silver, Harold and John, bought the elevator and started the Silver Bros. Company. After the purchase, the Silvers would hire staff to assist with the operations at the elevator. Amongst those hired were Kenneth Silver, a relative, and Cecil Hinners, a farmer in Urbana.

Figure 3-4: Silver Brothers and Employee Photo  

Left to Right: Kenneth “Buck” Silver, Cecil Hinners, John Silver

Courtesy of Mike Pennell

The Silvers would quickly begin their work at the elevator establishing their business however they would soon face the most disastrous event that would impact the community.

The 1942 Tornado

On March 16th, 1942 the middle of Illinois saw one of its most violent storm systems of the century. Known mostly for Central Illinois’ last F5 that hit North of Peoria in the Chillicothe and Lacon area, this storm would travel through the Champaign County area spawning one of the deadliest tornadoes in county history. That morning as the violent storm swept through the area a large F4 tornado would drop on the edge of Piatt County to the East of Bement. 

Figure 5: Tornado Track

Taken from the NOAA Website

The 400-yard (almost a quarter of a mile) wide tornado would continue its path of destruction as it entered Champaign County (10). The storm's first victim would come from the community of Savoy where the tornado skimmed the Southern side of the village. Raymond Bushue was killed when he was struck and killed by a metal beam sheared from a grain bin from the J. T. Smith and Sons Company (11). As it continued in Savoy it would demolish three homes before continuing back into the countryside. As it would continue its Northeastern track through the county it could encounter Myra Station and Elevator. 

With the height advantage of working atop the elevator, the employees were able to see the tornado approach. The five employees sought shelter amongst their equipment to save themselves. Four of the employees dove into the elevator pits and the last employee lowered himself into the well. As it passed over them the powerful tornado flattened a gas station located next to the station. overturned a semi-truck filled with grain, tore sheet metal from the elevator, and threw it 200 yards. Cecil Hinners recalled in a March 17, 1942, Daily Illini article, that a corncrib a quarter mile away from the elevator was lifted from its foundation and thrown over his head and over the elevator (11)

Figure 6-11: Myra Station Tornado Damage

Courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives & Mike Pennell

The tornado would continue North East and would strike Mayview where one would be killed and another injured. Just to the East the village of Saint Joseph would be the violent tornado's next victim. Three members of the Laughlin family would be killed and a fourth member injured. The devastation was so great that three years later a soldier fighting in Europe would compare the devastation and ruins of Europe to that of the destruction wrought by the 1942 tornado (12).

Figure 12: Saint Joseph Record Article

Courtesy of Mary Butzow

  After it left its destructive path in Saint Joseph the tornado would reenter the countryside avoiding any populated areas until it crossed into Vermillion County. The most devastation was caused to the village of Alvin where the tornado swept through downtown and left only a few buildings standing. To honor the eight who died that day a monument would be erected and can still be found across the street from the Alvin post office.

Rebuilding and Expansion

After the tornado, the 1940s proved to be a quiet decade where the Silver Bros. business thrived. Harold and John looked to not only rebuild their offices and facilities that were damaged or destroyed but to build back even larger. They wanted to expand their business both at the station and elsewhere. Their first tasks were to repair the elevator and rebuild the offices that had been swept off their foundations. The offices were rebuilt quickly and business got back to usual. The elevators that were damaged were torn down and new larger elevators would be built in their wake. 

Figure 13: New Elevator

Courtesy of Mike Pennell

After the war, as soldiers returned, new technology became available to local farmers. One of the new tools available was self-propelled combines. Not only were they difficult to find in the county, they were rare across the Midwest. Local farmer and attorney H. I. Green was among the first in the area to buy and use one. H. I. Green’s field lay less than a mile from Myra Station and the soybeans harvested were taken to grain bins that were rebuilt in the mid-1940s (13).

Before the end of the decade, the offices of the elevator would once again be the target of local robbers. Sheriff Clancy discovered the broken lock on the door and found that the office had been looted (14). Three boxes of cigars, 10 cartons of cigarettes, and various tools were taken but nothing of great value was stolen and no culprit was found. 

The Silvers wouldn’t be stopped by petty theft and at the end of the decade were looking to start a new chapter in their business and had raised the money to expand. Starting by expanding the facilities at Myra Station Harold and John contracted the Harshbarger Building Company of Urbana to build two Quonsets on the opposite side of the tracks at the station. By 1950 the two Quonsets had been constructed and were capable of storing more than 35,000 bushels of grain.

Figure 14: Harold Silver Standing in Quonset

Courtesy of Mike Pennell

Despite their work to improve and expand their business doubts began to rise amongst community members of Urbana about the importance of the branch line from Sideny to Urbana as passenger travel had all but ceased after World War II. In 1949 as the city planned for road work to expand and improve Route 45 by the airport, tearing up the tracks was considered (15). While the railroad had continued to provide freight it had limited development on the Southeast side of Urbana and was considered detrimental. However, these concerns would lead to no change. 

With the concerns quashed, the Silvers looked to continue their expansion by buying another grain elevator. On December 29th, 1950 the Silver brothers purchased the Moenkhaus elevator at 216 N Broadway in Urbana (Next to the Station Theater, formerly the Big Four Depot). The Silvers would get an additional benefit from their purchase that the elevator had an existing coal and feed company operating at the elevator that they would take over their operations (16). Their name at that point would officially be changed to the Silver Brothers Grain and Coal Company.

The Court Case: End of the Silvers Brothers Company

These expansions would be celebrated however their business would quickly fall apart. Two years after the opening of their new elevator in Urbana on February 19th, 1952, the brothers were charged by the federal government for the illegal conversion of grain contracted by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) for the amount of $300,000. Upon finding their grain missing the CCC asked for the money owed to them based on the original missing amount which the brothers did not have. The government then forced the company to put up a chattel mortgage with the Silver family properties and business as collateral until the amount could be paid (17). As such the Silvers brothers faced the threat of the entirety of their assets and wealth being seized by the government and a court date would be set for later in the year. The reason for the illegal sale of grain was stated by Harold Silver that the batch was bad and was spoiling. If it had sat in the elevator’s storage for any longer it would have contaminated more grain and would be entirely unusable. 

Figure 15: Urbana Daily Courier Article

Retrieved from the Champaign County Historical Archives

This decision displeased local community members that the Silvers still owed money for various sales or work. Three creditors would come forward to contest the seizure of assets in fear of losing the possibility of getting the money owed to them by the brothers. J. E. Reeser, R. W. Beeson, and Richard Phillips filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the Silvers. Reeser’s claim was the most substantial as he filed on behalf of his construction company J. E. Reeser and Son for costs left unpaid after the improvements and construction around the elevator for $23,619.62. (18) John Mitchem, the attorney for the Silvers stated that he doubted the brothers would contest the bankruptcy proceedings and that it threw a monkey wrench into the negotiations for the settlement of claims with CCC. Less than a week later the Silvers would decide to contest charges which would delay the seizure of assets and conclusion to the CCC’s case for an unknown amount of time. 

A month later the creditors and the Silvers would be called back into court for another development in the bankruptcy case. The government in an attempt to get things moving contested the involuntary bankruptcy case stating that two of the three farmers did not have provable claims. 

While the bankruptcy case continued the government decided to put pressure on the local court by beginning proceedings for the indictment of the Silvers at the federal level. On July 25th, 1952 the Eastern Illinois District Court presided by Judge Casper Platt charged Harold and John with ten counts of unlawful conveyance of grain (19). Their liabilities in the case would be set at $518,314.22. The brothers would be released on bond and no date was set yet for the criminal trial.

Figure 16: Urbana Daily Courier Article

Retrieved from the Champaign County Historical Archives

With the trial pending the government began measures to ensure the Silvers paid what was owed. Their first step was to seize control over the elevator and the grain and feed stored within. On July 26th the government contracted the Federal North Iowa Grain Company to oversee operations at the Myra Station Elevator. Only a day later over 20,000 bushels of soybeans were sold for over $60,000 (20). The proceeds made by these sales were then kept on hold awaiting the decision on the involuntary bankruptcy hearing on whether the government would keep the majority of the funds or if they would be distributed amongst the three creditors.

From August to December, the case went back and forth through the court system as the brothers, the three creditors, and the government went through multiple hearings and appeals to resolve the claims. With no progress being made by the end of the decade the court decided the three creditors would have to provide them with documents outlining the exact amounts owed to them by April 1953.

After this decision was made the government began requesting the court's permission to liquidate the Silver’s assets including their businesses, homes, equipment, and land. Outlined in these assets were 232 acres of farmland, two houses, the elevators at Myra Station and Urbana, and the harvested crops, machinery, and livestock. The court would approve the sale by the end of the month and some of the assets would be put up for immediate sale. The 232 acres and all buildings on the land including the original family home would be set to sell before March 1st. The elevators, homes in Urbana, and automobiles would be set to be sold at a later date.

On February 14th, the 232 acres would be split between three buyers, Roy and Kenneth Douglas who purchased between the two of them. 180 acres, and Hazel Pratt, who bought the remaining 52 acres (21). An additional land sale occurred on February 25th when the machinery and livestock were put up for auction and over 300 people were in attendance. Kenneth Douglas would live in the original Silver home with his family. Later Kenneth's daughter Ruth Ann Douglas would marry Richard Swearingen on August 9th, 1957 and the two would later move into a new home built closer to High Cross Road. The original Silver home still stands on the farm and Ann still lives on the property.

Figure 17: Urbana Daily Courier Article Photo

Retrieved from the Champaign County Historical Archives

The Beginning of March brought about another round of sales of Silver Property. On March 5th one of the Silver’s homes in Urbana at 1208 S Vine Street would be sold to George Pennell who was the son-in-law of Harold Silver. Pennell bid $12,250 for the home which he stated would be used to provide housing for his parents-in-law. The Silver’s other home on 509 E Washington St in Urbana would be purchased by Harold Silver Jr. for $11,750.

The Month of April also saw much change as the government looked next to sell the elevators. Upon the announcement, a group of twelve local farmers formed a cooperative under the name of Myra Grain Company. Leading this group of Myra Station locals was E. T. Werts. Despite the anticipated sale, however, the buying organization wouldn’t begin their operations until July 1st when the lease for the Federal-North Iowa Grain Company would end. It would also mark the end of the three creditors' claims as they would not file the appropriate documents before the deadline at the end of the month. 

Two bids were made on the elevator at Myra Station: Richard Reeser of Maroa and the Myra Grain Company. Reeser bid $38,500 while the Myra Grain Company bid $40,000. Both bids were lower than CCC’s expectations and were rejected and the bids would be settled in court to decide who’s offer would be accepted. On June 16th in court, Reese indicated that if his bid was accepted he would continue to allow the Federal North-Iowa Grain Company to continue their operations under the government’s lease for an additional 15 years (22). This additional bid was also rejected.

The sale was again opened to the public to put forth any additional bids to ensure the sale was beneficial to the government and the CCC. The Myra Group would again put a bid of $40,000 in while Reeser increased his bid to $40,250 with the same addendums. Once again these bids would be rejected and the sale would go back to the public. After a week of no additional bids Ray Foreman, Assistant U.S. Attorney recommended that Reeser's bid be accepted. After a temporary appeal period, Reeser’s bid would finally be approved.

The final sale of Silver assets and the Urbana Elevator wouldn’t be until later in the year in November. That month the assets of the coal and grain company including trucks, sheds, and equipment would be put up for public sale. The Broadway elevator would be sold to George W. Cook on November 25th (23). Cook purchased the elevator for $10,400. Despite the sale of the elevator and new ownership, Cook kept John Silver on as an employee. This sale would be short-lived as Cook would sell the elevator to Robert Reuter less than three months later in February of 1954.

By March of 1954, the last of the Silver assets, their properties, equipment, and businesses were sold and the government began preparations for the criminal trial to follow. A court date was set for May 14th to plea on 10 counts of unlawfully shipping government-owned grain. Instead of pleading not guilty as they initially pleaded in July of 1952 both brothers under the advisement of their attorney John Mitchem pleaded guilty. With the plea, the court dismissed the seventh charge for both brothers and the eighth, ninth, and tenth charges against John Silver as he was not involved in the illegal sale of grain as Harold. The brothers were once again both released on bond. In addition to the reduction of charges, the court also only gave the two brothers two years of probation due to their willingness to assist in the recovery of assets for CCC and the other creditors.

The Final Decades of Myra Station

Robert Reeser would continue to own the elevator after the end of the court case however, would lease the building out to private companies for operations and profits. Per his agreement with the government, the Federal North Iowa Grain Company continued its ownership of the elevator. Shortly after the company began its official sole operation of the elevator it was robbed before the end of the decade. In 1957 Theodore Campbell of Urbana was charged with robbery of the offices at Myra Station (24). It was not stated what was stolen. Campbell would be brought up on charges for both the robbery of the station and a previous left at the end of 1959.

The 1960s marked another year of change for the elevator. The first major change was that the Wabash Railroad was purchased by the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1964. This marked the beginning of a slow decline for Myra Station. 

For the rest of the decade, the elevator continued to see normal operations and traffic. Community members would still consider the elevator’s offices and grounds as a hub for community activities and as a gathering place. People would continue to play cards in the back room of the elevator’s office while depositing grain.

Figure 18-21: Men Playing Cards

Courtesy of Mike Pennell

In 1968 the Federal North Iowa Grain Company’s lease with Reeser to operate the elevator at Myra Station ended. Reeser and Virgil McKinney of St Joseph would begin their own operation at the station under the name “Myra Grain Elevator” (25). McKinney would manage the elevator and would keep all previous staff members employed. 

Operations under Reeser’s and McKinney’s management were quiet and seemingly without issue as no mention appears in any local newspaper of the company's business. 

After seven years the Savoy Grain Company was contracted to conduct their business at the elevator in 1975. Howard Mumm would oversee the operations for the Savoy Grain Company.

It was that same year that concerns once again were raised about the danger the tracks presented to local members and the slowing of developments in the city. Elizabeth Crabtree, running for the Urbana City Council, called for the tracks that ran through Urbana to be rerouted away from the residential districts on the Southeast side of the city (26). These concerns also sparked a discussion to have the tracks removed entirely as traffic continued to slow along the Norfolk and Western Railway tracks on the Sidney to Urbana branch. It wouldn't be until five years later that change would be

In September of 1980, the city of Urbana began work to begin removing the tracks entirely within city limits with plans to remove the remainder of the tracks from Myra to Sidney in the following decade. The project to remove the tracks was estimated at $290,000 which was almost entirely paid through state funding (27). A year later the tracks from Sidney to Urbana would be abandoned entirely by the Norfolk and Western as they deemed the tracks unprofitable. 

The elevator would continue operating utilizing trucking as its primary form of transportation for grain. However, with its main source of profitability gone with the tracks no longer in service, the elevator was nearing its end. The elevator closed in 1983 and it would sit vacant for three years (28). In July of 1986, O Neil’s Construction Company of Champaign began its work to demolish the elevators and facilities for plans to straighten the intersection at Windsor and Highcross Rd. By the end of the year the elevator was no more and what once was a community icon was reduced to nothing more than a street sign.

Figure 22: Champaign News-Gazette Article

While all that remains is that street sign on the south side of the intersection, the memories of local community members keep it alive even today. A hub for the farmers and families to gather and a place where anyone could stop by and play a game of euchre or get a cold soda are the elevator’s legacy. Its lengthy history can be best summed up by the words of its last owner Howard Mumm, “The best thing about old Mira was the friendliness of the place. It was a great place for the farmers to meet… It was a real good place.” (28)

Part II Bibliography

  1. Urbana Daily Courier. “Wheat and Oats are Mixed in Bins”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. August 12, 1913. 

  2. Urbana Daily Courier. “Farmers Near Myra Subscribe $6,800”. Illinois Digitial Newspaper Collection. June 14, 1917. 

  3. The Champaign Daily News. “Autos Clash Near Myra”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. August 25, 1917. 

  4. The Champaign Daily News. “Ivesdale Man is Put in Solitary” Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. May 18, 1919. 

  5. Urbana Daily Courier. “Search for ‘Boob’ Yeggs’”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. December 24, 1919. 

  6. Urbana Daily Courier. “Centennial” Illinois Digitial Newspaper Collection. February 24, 1922. 

  7. Daily Illini. “Ten UNI Students Arrested: Charge Theft of Lumber”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. October 11, 1934. 

  8. Urbana Daily Courier. “Community Picnic” Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. September 18, 1935. 

  9. Urbana Daily Courier “Expect Large Crowd at Community Picnic” Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. September 20, 1935. 

  10. NOAA. “The Lacon F5 Tornado of March 16, 1942”. National Weather Service Website. Accessed January 4th, 2024.       

  11. Daily Illini. “Storms Cause Heavy Damage in State” Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. March 17, 1942. No 150. 

  12. Saint Joseph Record. “Corporal says Germany took ‘Whipping’”. Accessed January 19th, 2024.

  13. Urbana Daily Courier. “Combine Bought in 1946 Rarity”. Mike Pennell. Undated.

  14. Urbana Daily Courier. “Silver Bros. Office Burglarized Friday”. Mike Pennell. Undated.

  15. Daily Illini. “Luders Discloses Proposed Route for New Road”. Illinois Digitial Newspaper Collection. May 26, 1949. No 163. 

  16. Urbana Daily Courier. “Silvers Buy Elevator Here”. Champaign County Historical Archives. December 29, 1950. 

  17. Urbana Daily Courier. “Silver Bros. Face Bankruptcy Action”. Champaign County Historical Archives. June 18, 1952.

  18. Urbana Daily Courier. “Bankruptcy Filing Brings Opposition”. Champaign County Historical Archives. June 20, 1952.

  19. Urbana Daily Courier. “Silver Brothers Indicted by U.S.”. Champaign County Historical Archives. July 25, 1952.

  20. Urbana Daily Courier. “Silver Beans Sold Tuesday” Champaign County Historical Archives. July 27, 1952.

  21. Urbana Daily  Courier. “Silvers’ Land Sold to Three Bidders” Champaign County Historical Archives. February 14, 1953.

  22. Urbana Daily Courier. “Myra Station Elevator Bids are Rejected” Champaign County Historical Archives. June 16, 1953.

  23. Urbana Daily Courier. “Silver Elevator Sold to Cook” Champaign County Historical Archives. November 11, 1953.

  24. Daily Illini. “Accident Victims File $31,575 Suit in Circuit Court”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. March 10, 1959.

  25. The St. Joseph Record. “Myra Elevator Now Independent”. Illinois Digitial Newspaper Collections. June 29, 1968.

  26. Daily Illini. “Primaries from 9”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections”. February 7, 1975.

  27. Daily Illini. “Repairs to Close Several Streets”. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. September 20, 1980.

  28. Champaign News-Gazette. “Elevator Full of Memories Being Demolished”. Champaign County Historical Archives. July 22, 1986.


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