Romance of Omaha, Chapter XIV

When the first settlers crossed the Missouri river on the old ferryboat in 1854 and decided Omaha was a good place in which to live, they built a home. According to stories of that long-ago day, the second thing they did was to sell real estate.

It must have been some such place as Omaha in the 50s that Whittier had in mind when he penned the lines:

Behind the scared squaw's birch canoe
The steamer smokes and raves,
And city lots are staked for sale
Above old Indian graves.

During the years 1855 and 1856, according to the best of authority, every second man in Nebraska was a real estate man. At least he would offer to sell a lot on the slightest provocation.

Wild Lot Selling

Townsite and city lots were staked out all up and down the Missouri river.

They changed hands rapidly. They increased in value almost over night.

Everyone believed that Omaha and Nebraska were to become great in a few short years. There was no selling "short" in those days.

On June 7, 1857, the Times, a pioneer newspaper, devoted considerable space to the rapid growth of the coming city. As proof that Omaha was booming the Times presented the following facts:

"Judging the future by the past Omaha will have 5,000 people by October 1 and the best lots along Farnam, Douglas and Harney streets will sell for $100 a front foot or $5,000 each." predicted optimistic editor.

Editorial Optimism

If that editor were alive today he would find Omaha a city of 222,000 people and the "best lots" on Farnam street selling for $10,000 or upwards a foot, or $500,000 for a 50-foot lot.

Compare real estate prices of today with the real estate values of the 50s and you have the story of Omaha's growth, told in an impressive way.

When Mrs. Alvin Saunders, wife of Nebraska's famous territorial governor, came to Omaha, she bought the corner where the Patterson block now stands for $1,750. That was in the late 50s. That corner lot is now worth at least $600,000.

St. A.D. Balcombe, noted pioneer resident, paid $12,000 in 1865 for the block bounded by Capitol avenue and Davenport and Sixteenth and Seventeenth streets, then a beautiful residence property. His friends told him he was throwing his money away.

Missed Opportunities

The history of the city is filled with similar instances. Older residents can recall many opportunities they missed by not investing in Omaha real estate at the right time.

For Omaha property has always been and still is a good investment.

It was so valuable when Omaha was founded that he who attempted to jump another's claim was treated rather roughly - it was a way they seemed to have in those days.

The first real estate document recorded in Omaha was a description of the land claimed by Alfred D. Jones, first surveyor of the city. It was recorded on February 10, 1855, and dated November 6, 1854. In it the limits of the Jones' claim is outlined by blazed trees and furrows.

The first addition to be platted in Omaha was Capital addition, south of the site of Central High school and west to Twentieth street.

Rows Over Land

Harrison Johnson, one of the founders of Omaha, and the townsite company both claimed the land known as Capitol hill, now Central High school ground.

They compromised. The townsite company kept the hill and Johnson the land to the south. This he platted and sold in large lots. Some of it he deeded to his creditors in payment of debts.

Other additions followed fast in the wake of Mr. Johnson's enterprise and Omaha began to spread out.

Omaha proper, in the early days, extended from the river west to Twentieth and Twenty-second street, south to Jackson and north to Webster. Claims surrounded it. It was these claims that were platted and sold in lots later on.

Lots Given Away

The townsite company was willing to give lots to persons who would improve them.

A map showing the first survey map of Omaha and bearing the notice that lots will be presented to those who will build on them is in possession of Harry A. Turkey.

Omaha real estate dealers, the very first of whom was Byron Reed, seemed to have done quite a lively business through the earlier years of the city, but it was not until the 80s that the first real estate man with modern ideas came to the city.

His name was Clifton E. Mayne. He furnished his salesmen with fine buggies and fast horses and he sold lots far from the center of the city. He operated in Omaha for several years, but left when a temporary decline of values came in the early 90s.

The largest single real estate deal up to 1890 was the sale that year of property in East Omaha to the Omaha Bridge and Terminal company, a subsidiary of the Illinois Central for nearly $700,000.

Outdates Parent

Florence is the oldest of Omaha suburbs. It existed in fact before Omaha was founded.

Benson was founded in 1893 by E.A. Benson and connected with Omaha by a street car line. Dundee was incorporated in 1894 and also had for a time its own street car line running into Omaha.

The plat of South Omaha was filed in 1884 and for some time thereafter South Omaha lots were much in demand at fair prices, even though they were considered "far out."

The extension of the street railway lines from 1870 on made the development of Omaha much more rapid. Addition after addition was platted through the 90s and into the Twentieth century.

Pastures Become Homes

Only a few short years ago well built up additions, dotted with fine homes, that now lie northwest and southwest of Omaha were pastures.

Omaha's real estate values have increased more than $100,000,000 in the last 10 years. In the last year more than 7,500 pieces of property changed hands. They were valued at approximately $16,000,000.

Real estate transfers in the last 10 years have totaled in value more than $275,000,000. In that time about 100,000 pieces of property have been bought and sold.

Only two or three times in its history has Omaha had a real estate "boom." The increase in values from the $100 a lot of 1855 to the $10,000 a front foot has been steady and therefore sound, based on real value rather than on fictitious worth.

Steady Value Rise

The prospects for Omaha are bright. Real estate, as it has been through all the years, is still a good, sound investment. There's a future in Omaha property.

One who may be inclined to doubt it needs only to look back a few years to the time when Glenn Curtis staged an air meet in a big pasture stretching north from Military avenue and Forty-first street, or to the time when the entire section from Miller park to Florence was farm land.

Omaha home lovers have gone out into nearby country to build fine homes. West of the city in Fairacres and north in the Florence hills are splendid homes, where a very few years ago there was nothing but cornfields, pastures and woodland.

It is not necessary to go back 50 or 70 years to visualize the growth of Omaha. Twenty years, even 10 years is far enough back and the story can be found, if nowhere else, in the real estate transactions and values of the city.

It is only a few short years, comparatively, since the Indian landed his canoe where now is the foot of Douglas avenue, shouldered his "trade" musket and tramped back into the hills around the country clubs to shoot deer for his dinner.

Chapter XV
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