When I was a young boy, and of course typically not very interested in such things, my father mention to me one evening that there was a place in Illinois named for our family. He knew our branch of the Brewer family had pioneered near Danville at a very early date. Father went on to tell me that this place was located somewhere near Danville along the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad. He didn't think it was actually a town.
A few years later, I was a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana. One bleak, boring, September day in 1963, I happened to remember this conversation. I had my parents second car, a 1950 Chevrolet, at school and Father's Yashica-A camera too, so I decided to drive the thirty-two miles to Danville to see what I could learn. After arriving, I turned north along the C&EI and followed it for a short distance. I soon came to a rail yard and along the tracks at the north end there was a two-story building looking very much like a station building. It was in very sad repair: sagging a bit, partly boarded up, and with very little paint remaining. It had station-type name boards on each end, and with some effort, I could read the name in the remaining, faded paint: BREWER.
The sign on the north end of the building, although badly faded, still clearly read: BREWER.
The place was nearly deserted. There were no trains or moving equipment. One man did walk out of the yard office, looked around, completely ignored me and went back inside. I walked all around the building and took a few pictures. Then I got back in the Chevy and returned to Urbana.
I only saw one employee while I was there.
Brewer, Illinois yard office on the former Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad.
The building was probably a nice building once, but years of no maintenance were obvious. It was destined to burn not long after my visit.
Very little seemed to be happening at the office or in the yard on September 18, 1963.
After he retired, but long before the internet made things easier, my father researched Brewer genealogy and recorded his results. In a little monograph, he wrote that Richard Brewer and his family migrated from Ohio to Vermillion County, Illinois in the fall of 1830. They settled in Newell Township four miles northeast of Danville where Richard (1790 - 1849) and his wife, Christina, lived out the remainder of their lives. Richard's brothers Charles, William, John, and sister Sarah all followed him to the area.
Richard Brewer was a farmer and shoemaker. In the War of 1812, he served under Colonel Cass at the time General Hull surrendered to the British at Detroit -- much to the objection of Colonel Cass.
The sign on the south end of the building was almost illegible.
I contacted Rick Schroeder, Editor of the Danville Flyer, the newsletter of the Danville Junction Chapter of the NRHS, and asked what he could tell me. He replied that, "Indeed the name came from the Brewer family. Brewer Road is the north-south road just west of the yard. The yard was located on the east side of Danville and is the main yard for CSX. It has been expanded, with the yard office now on the south end. In the middle 1960's the building you mentioned burned, and a passenger car was brought in for a makeshift office."
"Some of the Brewer family worked for the C&EI over the years. For which one the yard is named, I am not sure, but I suspect it was named for the family after the road name. Brewer Road leads to the north end of the yard."
"The railroad was built around 1870's. The line from the south, into the yard, was the Evansville, Terre Haute and Chicago. The Chicago Danville and Vincennes came from the north and both met at Danville Junction, located northeast of the downtown area. The yard area was the ETH&C yard area and probably named for the Brewers at that time. In 1877 the two lines merged and became the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad."
This is how the building looked ca 1900. Employees are not identified, but the man in the bowler hat might well be the Yardmaster. Note the awnings and the multiple telegraph connections. Photo courtesy of the C&EI Historical Society.
There is still a place in Illinois named Brewer. It is not a town; it is a railroad yard now on the CSX. After trying to research the history of the name as connected to my family, it is still unclear if the road and the railroad yard were named specifically for my great-great-grandfather, Richard Brewer, for another family member, for all the early Brewer settlers, or for their land holdings. Nevertheless, there is strong reason to believe that it was indeed named for my own branch of the Brewer family.