Omaha Began Early to Develop Its Role as Packing Center

Stock Yards Firm Encouraged Packers to Locate Here; William A. Paxton Had Key Role in Founding Industry

Among the reminiscences of John A. McShane, president of the Union Stock Yards Company from 1884 to 1894, is this: "One of the incidental conditions was that I, as president of the stockyards company, should be awarded the distinguished honor of killing the first steer and the first hog that should appear for slaughter at the opening of the plant...I faithfully — if not scientifically! — performed the duty of high executioner on this memorable occasion."

The year Mr. McShane took over as president the first packing house in connection with the Union Stock Yards Company was built along 350 feet of railroad track. It was a three-story, frame building, irregular in shape and had about six acres of ground for its "yards." Once this plant got into production, near-by consumers soon were demanding most of the output of this house, thereby making it difficult for more distant customers to be supplied. This condition prompted the Union Stock Yards Company to seek some big packing firm to locate near the yards, and in a short time succeeded in leasing its plant for three years to G. H. Hammond & Co., a Michigan firm.

Although prominent in many other civic activities, Mr. McShane's chief recognition rests upon his achievement in being largely instrumental in bringing the big packers to Omaha.

The Union Stock Yards Company's intention from the beginning was to attract others into establishing packing houses near the yards by the offer of bonuses. Eventually it donated to the Hammond Company the plant originally leased. In 1885 the Hammond packers handled a daily average of five hundred cattle and one thousand hogs. Their products were shipped in their own refrigerator cars to eastern markets.

In 1886 Union built a packing house for Fowler Brothers of Chicago. It was designed to handle four thousand hogs a day. The Chicago firm was given a 135-thousand-dollar bonus to locate in South Omaha.

Completion of the Livestock Exchange Building came this same year.

Opening of the Hammond and Fowler packing house started the community that was to grow rapidly into the city of South Omaha. Land was offered to Individuals and corporations alike as a bonus to build.

In the fall of 1886, Thomas J. Lipton surveyed the prospects and in 1887 opened a packing house with a capacity of one thousand hogs daily.

Michael and Edward A. Cudahy came to Omaha in July, 1887, to take over the Lipton plant with financial backing from Philip D. Armour, Sr. Michael had been working for Mr. Armour in Chicago and Edward had been active in the old Plankinton plant in Milwaukee, Wis., where he was born.

On the organization of the Armour-Cudahy Packing Company, Michael Cudahy became manager and Edward A. Cudahy superintendent. The company received a Union Stock Yards Company bonus of 150 thousand dollars. The Cudahys began erecting a large packing house and by November 10, 1887, had begun slaughtering hogs. Cattle killing was introduced the following month.

Mr. Armour pulled out of the firm and the Armour-Cudahy Company in December, 1890, was reorganized as the Cudahy Packing Company, Inc., with Michael Cudahy as president and Edward A. Cudahy as vice-president and general manager. Armour & Co. did not complete its own Omaha plant until 1898.

Negotiations were concluded in the summer of 1887 between the Union Stock Yards Company and G. F. Swift of Chicago to bring Swift & Company into South Omaha. Mr. Swift was presented a bonus of 11 acres of land and about 135 thousand dollars to erect a packing house. By late 1888 Swift was in business in buildings valued at 300 thousand dollars and was slaughtering cattle and hogs.

No one, however, was so much in the center of the cattle business and other enterprises as William A. Paxton.

Mr. Paxton had experienced a typical pioneer's introduction to Omaha. He had come to the city in 1857 with a man named Regan to help him build bridges out on the Military Road (now Cuming Street, Military Avenue and the Northwest Radial Highway). He had been foreman of the work between Omaha and Shell Creek and later held a $40-a-month job in Edward Creighton's construction in 1860 and 1861 of telegraph lines to Denver. In 1862 he managed a livery stable at $20 a month and engaged in freighting between Omaha and Denver. By December, 1868, he had made himself a profit of $14,500 through contracts with the Union Pacific Railroad.

He invested this money in cattle, which he brought to Omaha from Abilene, Kans., selling at a profit of 12 thousand dollars. In 1869, he built the first 20 miles of the Omaha & Northwestern Railroad and by 1875 had drummed up a business of supplying beef to the Indian agencies.

Out of this enterprise he obtained 125 thousand dollars worth of stock in the Ogallala Land and Cattle Company in 1884. Even in the course of his many other transactions, he found the time to organize a wholesale grocery house with Benjamin Gallagher under the name of Paxton & Gallagher Co.

Mr. Paxton died in 1907. Of all that could be related of him, one thing stands out: he was one of the few men in the city's history who at a given time had the power to crush or cripple the Omaha stockyards project. Had he not abandoned his yards on the east side of the Missouri, had he not decided to take a leading part in the South Omaha enterprise, then Council Bluffs might have been a rival packing center today. The Paxton Block on the northeast corner of Sixteenth and Farnam Streets (Goldstein Chapman's store occupies the building today), which received a modern facelifting a few years ago, was one of his many contributions to public improvement.

To the stockyards and the packing industry go the laurels for making South Omaha the lively, prosperous community it so quickly became. So rapid was its early growth that it became known as "The Magic City." Its population climbed to more than 10 thousand in a mere three years after opening of the Union Stock Yards.

By proclamation of the Governor on December 13, 1887, South Omaha was made a city of the second class. First city officers elected in April, 1888, were W. G. Sloane, mayor; Thomas Hoctor, city clerk, and Thomas Geary, treasurer. Named president of the Council was J. McMillan, with Eli H. Doud appointed as city attorney and E. B. Towie city engineer.

On June 8, 1889, Governor Thayer proclaimed South Omaha to be a city of the first class, "having more than eight thousand and less than 25 thousand population." When the community was annexed to Omaha on. June 5, 1915, more than 25 thousand were added to the Omaha population.

As in 1858-59, Omaha weathered a crippling depression in the early 1870's which began with the panic of '73; but the most devastating effects yet suffered by the young city were caused by Omaha's first disaster — the great Missouri River flood of 1881.

Early that spring a heavy ice gorge gave way at Yankton, in Dakota, sending a torrent of water cascading down the snake-like channel, overflowing its banks whenever bottomland presented itself. At that time, the flood was the highest recorded stage of water in the Missouri Valley. It reached Omaha April 6. The rip-rap installed by the Government to protect the Union Pacific shops and the smelting works gave way under the pressure. All buildings were submerged.

Men labored night and day to save as much material as possible from the coal and lumber yards which went down like a slowly-sinking barge. Bottom lands between Omaha and Council Bluffs were a sea of rushing, muddy water varying in depth from two to 10 feet.

"Steamboats were anchored in the neighborhood of the Transfer Hotel," write James W. Savage and John T. Bell in their "History of the City of Omaha." "From that point eastward the Union Pacific built a bridge, half a mile long, of flat cars. Steamers wended their way over the Union Pacific grounds on the west side of the river and took on coal from the company's supply. For four days a steady gain of water was reported, the highest stage being reached at 6 p. m. (April 9), when a depth of 22 feet above the low-water mark, two feet higher than ever before known, was reported..."

At that hour the river stretched five miles from the bluffs east of the Union Pacific headquarters to the North Western depot in Council Bluffs. On the water's surface floated ice cakes, broken trees, pieces of timber, splintered fence rails, lumber, logs, torn-away sections of houses. Two lives were lost, property damage was high.

The magic of the telephone was introduced into Omaha in 1878 when the Omaha Electric Company opened service to 150 customers. This corporation was composed of C. W. Mead, J. J. Dickey, L. H. Korty, S. H. H. Clark, William A. Paxton, J. T. Clark, J. W. Gannett, T. L. Kimball and H. E. Jennison. In 1882 the firm reorganized under the name of Nebraska Telephone Company and a year later could boast of 393 patrons in Omaha.

By 1883 the Northwestern Electric Light Company had established the city's first power house in the Strang Building on the northeast corner of Tenth and Farnam Streets and the first electric illumination occurred in that year. The Nebraska Telephone Company and the Iowa Telephone Company eventually were merged with the Northwestern Electric Light Company to form the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company.

In October, 1872, two of the city's earliest settlers, Andrew J. Hanscom and James G. Megeath, offered 57 1/2 acres of ground in the southwest section just outside the city limits for conversion into a public park. The tract was owned by both men, but because Mr. Hanscom gave the larger share the park was named for him. It was opened in 1879.

Mr. Hanscom was one of the incorporators of the Omaha Horse Railway Company, organized in 1867 under a 50-year franchise granted in the closing session of the Territorial Legislature. Other signers of the articles of incorporation were Alfred Burley, Ezra Millard, George W. Frost, Joel T. Griffin, J. W. Paddock, C. S. Chase, George M. O'Brien, J. R. Meredith, R. A. Bird, E. B. Chandler, John McCormick, Augustus Kountze, William Ruth, J. Frank Coffman and David Butler.

How Mr. Hanscom, traditionally blunt-spoken, put himself among the incorporators was a maneuver typical of this sometimes rough-mannered frontier lawyer who seldom counted to 10 before punching his way toward settlement of an argument. Six months before the Legislature's action, Omaha voters had approved the new State Constitution which, upon going into effect, would, prohibit an exclusive franchise to any one corporation.

The Omaha horse railway bill came up in the final minutes of the Territorial Legislature. Promoters scurried to line up votes and force their bill through so that privileges granted would not be affected by the new State Constitution.

In those last critical hours of the Territory Mr. Hanscom arrived from the East and learned of the project. He elbowed his way into the fight and when he came out he had succeeded in having himself named in the bill as one of the incorporators.

When the amended bill was returned for action, the cooperative doorkeeper was just putting back the hands of the clock in a move of desperation to keep the last Territorial session alive.

The howl that erupted from some of the other incorporators upon hearing the amended bill read almost blew the dome off the Capitol.

Mr. Hanscom, fighting mad, was ready to whale somebody. "They'll let me in on the deal!" he thundered. "If they don't, I'll knock the everlasting stuffing out of the bill."

The debate carried on... The clock's hands were put back for the third time... Then, not long before the old Territorial Legislature died and Nebraska became a state, the measure as written was enacted and the Omaha Horse Railway Company was born.

The first horse car was purchased second hand in Chicago for seven hundred dollars. It was simply an omnibus, mounted on four iron-flanged wheels, with five windows on each side. The driver sat perched on a lofty seat, stage-coach-style. In 1869, the company obtained four street cars each 16 feet in length and with wide-open platforms. Fares, at first 10 cents a trip, were reduced in 1872 to 5 cents,

In January, 1873, Mr. Hanscom purchased a majority of the company's stock and operated the rail system until July of that year. Then he sold his interest to Capt. W. W. Marsh, who in 1878 bought the entire street railway property for 25 thousand dollars at a foreclosure sale, extended the line and improved the shop. Captain Marsh didn't desire to hold control for long. In 1883, he sold three-fifths interest to S. H. H. Clark, Guy Barton and Frank Murphy on the basis of total valuation of 500 thousand dollars. A new company was then organized and the lines greatly extended.

During Mr. Hanscom's management, he abolished all free passes on the line. If anybody persisted in asking him for a pass, he merely reached into his pocket and handed the applicant a nickel.

Mr. Hanscom's qualifications as a shrewd business man never were open to argument. As a lawyer, he contented himself with only a limited practice and concentrated mostly upon a more profitable business in real estate. One day a preacher inquired about purchasing a lot in town on credit.

"Well—" asked Mr. Hanscom, thoughtfully stroking his closely-cropped beard, "what security can you give me?"

"Why—my honor, of course, sir," replied the preacher.

"Well—" said Hanscom again, clearing his throat and observing the preacher critically, "I'd have a damned hard time foreclosing on that kind of security!" The deal fell through.

VI.—The Golden Years

The so-called "Gay Nineties" were not very gay, from the economic standpoint at least.

True, they were the period of the barber shop quartets; men in loud-patterned suits, handle-bar mustaches and derby hats; pretty women in lace, frills, saucy hats with plumes, pompadour hairdos, full-busted and wasp-waisted dresses with full-flowing skirts that swished when they walked and dainty parasols to match; "gingerbread" trim on houses; picnics, dancing and skating in the parks as the seasons warranted; summer-evening rides in open streetcars and Sunday band concerts — and all of this a "gaiety" that continued well into the 1900's.

The older generations look back upon those years and call them "golden" — perhaps because they formed an age when human incentive knew no bounds because it knew no penalty; because inspiration, ambition and hard work could lead to success, without restrictions on individual earning power.

Men became wealthy almost overnight, lost their fortunes the next night, and the following day gained them back. It was an age of opportunity, incentive, ideas and expansion.

But along with all this, for a time at least, came business stagnation. There were then, as always, the low and medium income families; and for them, especially, sluggish business meant hard times.

The beginning of the collapse came in April, 1887, and by 1893 financial depression and bank failures had blanketed the land. The destructive hot winds and crop failures of 1894 and the partial crop failure of the following year put the people into a financial strait-jacket. They felt the repercussions of that triple blow through most of the 1890's. During those years about the only real estate sales that were made were under foreclosure of mortgages by the sheriff. Legal notices of mortgages filled the newspapers.

The purchase of 99 acres by the Omaha Bridge and Terminal Company, an annex of the Illinois Central Railway, was the biggest single real estate transaction in the city up to 1890.

Some of Omaha's wealthiest citizens earned their way through the city's bountiful real estate opportunities, with the result that real estate men themselves profited extensively through the periodic "booms."

Byron Reed is generally accepted as being Omaha's pioneer real estate agent. Prior to his arrival on the Omaha scene in 1855, he had been in the office of the Register of Deeds for Trumbull County in Warren, 0. A year later, after an unprofitable venture into Kansas, he set up a real estate office in the Pioneer Block and plunged immediately into civic affairs. From 1861 to 1867 he was City Clerk, and in the middle of this term was also County Clerk for two years beginning in 1863.

In 1865 he opened a new office in a small, frame building at 212 South Fourteenth Street. This was replaced several years later by a brick building. That structure still stands.

Prospect Hill Cemetery received its name from Mr. Reed who in 1860 had purchased 15 acres of the ground from Jesse Lowe and also the 10 acres set aside in 1858 for a cemetery by Moses F. Shinn. Mr. Reed operated the cemetery for 20 years at a loss, then turned it over to the Forest Lawn Cemetery Association. In 1890, the lot owners of Prospect Hill organized an association of their own, taking over the cemetery's management from Forest Lawn and acquiring additional ground.

The Forest Lawn Cemetery Association was organized under Nebraska law on May 13, 1885. Its first tract consisted of about one hundred acres of semi-wooded farmland, purchased from John H. Brackin who was one of the first incorporators. Forest Lawn records show that Mr. Brackin was the first to be interred on November 12, 1886.

The cemetery today comprises 359 acres. It was laid out by Ernshaw of Cleveland, with winding avenues which even in the horse-and-buggy days were to prove adequate for today's auto traffic.

Among other veteran real estate dealers at the opening of the 1890's were Byron Hastings, who learned the business under Mr. Reed and later conducted his own business under the partnership of Hastings & Heyden; George N. Hicks, who began business in 1878; A. P. Tukey, who opened an office in 1881; George P. Bemis (later the firm of Bemis & Bowers), who was Mayor from 1892 until 1896; George and Joseph Barker, the Kountze Brothers and Messrs Hanscom and Redick.

Two partners, George H. Boggs and Lewis W. Hill, were expansionists who not only contributed to the city's rapid growth toward the close of the century but also made it possible for average-income families to own their homes. They were big advertisers and sold lots and building contracts for medium-sized homes on favorable terms.

Another big real estate advertiser was Clifton E. Mayne, who had tried several jobs — chief telegraph operator for Western Union, bookkeeper for the Omaha Bee and later for the Barker brothers' real estate business, before opening his own real estate office with a shoestring in 1883.

Mr. Mayne used splash advertising and circus-type promotion methods. He was ranked as one of Omaha's most public-spirited citizens, making liberal investments in many big civic projects. His costly residence on North Twenty-fourth Street eventually passed into John I. Redick's ownership.

Mr. Mayne was the first real estate operator in Omaha to employ a staff of professional salesmen, furnishing each of them with a light buggy and a fast horse. In this manner, his salesmen could make appointments and personally take their prospects on inspection trips to property in far-outlying districts, returning so quickly that their clients would lose all sense of time and distance!

Through 1886 and 1887, Mayne lived in glory. He was considered a millionaire—on paper. He added a stable of race horses to his equipment and sent them on circuit.

A year later, on the morning of the big blizzard, Mr. Mayne took a large group across the river to Council Bluffs. His procession was made up of 15 sleighs, each carrying the sign: "C. E. Mayne, Real Estate and Trust Company." But such grandiose promotion in the midst of near-crisis did nothing to save him from collapse. A few months later banks and creditors struck him mercilessly. He went to San Francisco.

Another bold operator who ran a close second to Mr. Mayne was G. G. Albright, a native of Iowa who came to Omaha in December, 1885. His first big purchase was a piece of land, adjoining South Omaha on the south, which he platted into lots and called Albright's Addition. Within 10 days all the lots were sold in the state's first real estate auction.

Thus the 15 or so years just ahead of 1900 were a time of intense speculation, feverish activity - and then economic exhaustion. But in those years were erected monuments to a young city's development — Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital, founded in 1881; The Creche, day nursery for children, 1887; the County Poor Farm, 1887; the Douglas Street Bridge, opened in 1888; the Omaha National Bank's first business building on the west side of Thirteenth Street between Douglas and Farnam Streets, completed in 1889; the Paxton Block, 1888; the Bee Building, later the Peters Trust Building and today the Insurance Building on the northwest corner of Seventeenth and Farnam Streets, in 1889; the New York Life Insurance Company Building, now the Omaha National Bank Building, also in 1889; County Hospital, 1890; Immanuel Hospital and Deaconess Institute and the Methodist Episcopal Hospital, both in 1891; modernization of the city's expanding street railway lines; laying of the cornerstone of the present City Hall on June 19, 1890; completion of the Karbach Block on the southeast corner of Fifteenth and Douglas Streets, in 1892; opening of the Tenth Street Viaduct on January 1, name but a few.

Expansion and modernization of the street railway lines and their eventual consolidation was one of the major accomplishments of this period. On April 1, 1889, the Omaha Horse Railway Company was merged with the Omaha Cable Tramway Company, which on a reorganization of the old 1884 enterprise had begun operations in 1887. Its power house was at Twentieth and Harney Streets. The merger brought about a change in name to the Omaha Street Railway Company.

In 1887 also came the Omaha Motor Railway Company, the first to use electricity outside the cable-car concern.

Several other tram systems emerged. The consolidation of all these organizations later brought into being the present Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway Company.

One of the reasons for constructing the Douglas Street Bridge was that the Union Pacific abandoned its original plan for providing a wagonway across its first railroad bridge.

The Douglas Street Bridge project was the outcome of an organization called the Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway and Bridge Company, established on April 1, 1887, by Joseph H. Millard, Frank Murphy and Guy C. Barton of Omaha and John T. Stewart, Thomas J. Evans and George F. Wright of Council Bluffs.

The bridge was opened to traffic on October 30, 1888, after much fanfare. Thirty-five thousand persons — many coming by wagonloads from the surrounding territory — witnessed the dedication. The celebration was the triumphal climax of a decade which since 1880 had seen Omaha advance from sixty-fourth place in the list of American cities to twenty-first position. Its population, under the United States census of 1890, was 140,452. This figure no doubt was inflated by a good many thousand ghost residents, as were the announced populations of many other cities at that time.

Major public improvements were mostly insignificant until the middle of the 1880's when a general system of grading, sewerage and paving was introduced.

The first paving of any consequence was of asphalt, laid between Fourteenth and Sixteenth Streets on Douglas Street in the fall of 1882. In January of that year, the City Council appointed a Board of Public Works with James Creighton as chairman.

In 1886, Farnam Street from Ninth to Fifteenth was graded and macadamized and a few years later was repaved with Sioux Falls granite. By 1889 Omaha could point to 51 miles of streets paved, 19 miles of stone curbing installed, 72 miles of sewers built and 103 miles of other streets graded — all at a total cost of $6,540,472.

In 1890 came 9 1/5 more miles of paving, 12 more miles of sewers, 19 1/5 more miles of curbing, 22 1/2 more miles of street grading and 22 miles of public sidewalks.

The Eleventh Street and Sixteenth Street viaducts, built in 1887 at a cost of $134,527.97, bridged railroad tracks and lowlands on a direct route linking the city's business district with its growing neighbor, South Omaha.

The conversion of Omaha from a frontier village to a Midwestern city involved the removal of a vast amount of earth, the grading down of hills and the filling up of ravines. St. Mary's Avenue received a radical rather than a gradual grade. Later years proved that it could have undergone much more of a cut-down.

Farnam Street's grade was changed three times. When the County Commissioners purchased the block bounded by Farnam, Harney, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets for erection of Omaha's second Courthouse, which was opened in 1885, their choice of the site was influenced by this block's commanding elevation. The Commissioners anticipated a cut-down of the original Farnam Street grade and accordingly sliced several feet of earth from the hill's top.

This action caused a storm of protests from saddened citizens who accused the Commissioners of having no eye for the picturesque. The Farnam Street grade was subsequently cut down, and the project did leave the Douglas County Courthouse, a tall, domed, stone monstrosity anyway, looking like a knot on a bump on a hump.

Farnam Street's appearance was greatly improved when the second Courthouse was demolished and the square shaved down to street level to make way for the third Courthouse, the building that now stands on that block.

To harmonize with Farnam's elevation, Harney Street also was leveled. When the present Public Library was put up, the vacant property immediately to the east consisted of a high bank - almost half the height of the'library itself. Similarly, Dodge Street underwent two changes of grade. When the old Omaha High School building stood on Capitol Hill, Dodge Street — then hardly more than a trail — ran steeply west to Twentieth and then leveled off at approximately an equal elevation with the high school grounds. Cable cars were in use for several years on this street.

Dodge Street's original grade was established from Ninth to Twenty-second Streets on August 2, 1873, Of the two cuts made, the first between Nineteenth and Twentieth reduced its elevation 13 feet in that block. Douglas was shaved, off to conform.

The second cut — and the last change of grade — was made in 1919 between Seventeenth and Twenty-second Streets. The hill was dropped 22 feet at that time, making the total Dodge Street cut 35 feet.

The Twentieth and Dodge intersection, however, now stands 33 feet beneath its original elevation. Changing the grade the second time forced engineers to alter the face of Central High's grounds.

Cuming Street was converted from a hilly country road into a straight street with only a gradual, ascending grade westward. Flowing eastward along the line of Nicholas Street at that time was a creek which often bothered sanitation officials in the summer months. It was filled. To the south of the business district, Sixteenth Street was cut down about 50 feet in the vicinity of Jones Street. Eleventh Street at the intersection of Pierce Street was graded down 66 feet. Jones Street in the early days of Omaha history was a creek bed, known first as Otoe Creek and later as South Omaha Creek. East of Eighth Street, from this creek north to Farnam, was a high bluff overlooking a large pond immediately south of Farnam Street. The pond often was used for skating in the winter. But when the grading program got under way, the bluff was leveled off and the pond filled.

Leavenworth Street once was recognized under a variety of names, including Plum, Sherman, Grant and Third. Only after several years of bitter warfare between parties with property along the route were the necessary improvements made — 20-foot cuts where needed, ravines filled where practical, narrow bottlenecks widened and a single name decided upon.

On June 19, 1890, the Grand Lodge of Masons of the State of Nebraska, which happened to be in session in Omaha, conducted the ceremony of laying the cornerstone to the new City Hall at Eighteenth and Farnam Streets. This old building today has shed most of its fancy trimmings, including the tall tower which once adorned the southwest comer of the high, dormer-peppered roof.

That same year started a near-decade of financial panic, depression and gloom: a decade of unemployment and 8-cent corn, a decade that saw discontented farmers organizing a Populist Movement, a decade in which people never quit talking about the "Blizzard of '88."

The storm, which pounced upon the Middle West suddenly on the balmy afternoon of Jahuary 12, took a toll of 14 lives in Nebraska. Although only four inches of snow fell in Omaha, drifts formed by the 42-mile-an-hour wind towered several feet to block doorways, seal windows, bury outbuildings, cut communications and paralyze all travel.

Old snow from previous storms, whipped up by the galeforce winds, helped to cause the heavy drifting. Omaha's mercury skidded 33 degrees in only seven hours — from 27 at 3 a. m. to 6 below at 10 p. m. By morning of the 13th, the temperature stood at 18 below zero. Many Omaha families were marooned in their homes, some with few provisions. Business came to a virtual standstill.

Omaha, almost from the beginning, had been a "city of lawyers," and its reputation held even as the century drew to a close.

Lawyers Poppleton, Hanscom and Origen D. Richardson had gained prominence quickly. Mr. Richardson was the father of Lyman Richardson, who had been associated for many years with Dr. Miller in the publication of the Omaha Herald. He died in 1878.

Of equal eminence in the legal profession was Silas Allen Strickland, whose colorful career took him through four stormy sessions of the Legislature in which he was a staunch fighter for Bellevue as a capital site; witnessed his appointment as United States District Attorney of Nebraska and in 1871 as president of the State Constitutional Convention.

Experience Estabrook's first appearance in Omaha in 1855 was long remembered by pioneer residents because on arrival he had pulled from his inside vest pocket a commission from President Pierce signifying his rank as Attorney General of the Territory of Nebraska. Because of his official position, he had been recognized by the court at its first session as the territory's only member of the bar, and it had been upon his motion that the first Nebraska bar was admitted to practice.

Mr. Estabrook became a member of Congress, District Attorney for Omaha in 1867 and a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1871.

Other pioneer lawyers who were influential factors in the general growth of Omaha were James M. Woolworth, an equity lawyer, fluent writer, one-term president of the American Bar Association, one-time chancellor of the Episcopalian Diocese of Nebraska and delegate to the 1871 Constitutional Convention; Clinton Briggs, fourth Mayor of Omaha, one-time county judge, member Of the Legislature and partner of John I. Redick; B. E. B. Kennedy, a native of Vermont and Omaha's sixth Mayor; George Ingersoll Gilbert, another Vermonter; Charles H. Brown, who had practiced law in New York, had come to Omaha in 1860 and was Omaha's ninth Mayor; James W. Savage, a New Yorker who had been a member of the state historical societies of New Hampshire (his native state) and Wisconsin and Missouri; George B. Lake, Charles F. Manderson, John D. Howe, John C. Greene, James Neville, Edward W. Simeral, Champion S. Chase and John Lee Webster.

Several of Omaha's pioneer lawyers drifted into other business channels after only brief practice. Among them were Alfred D. Jones; Jonas Seeley, brother-in-law of Mr. Hanscom; Samuel E. Rogers, James G. Chapman, Charles P. Burkitt, Maj. George Armstrong, Omaha's fifth Mayor, and Phineas W. Hitchcock.

Mr. Hitchcock had been United States Marshal in 1861 and a delegate to Congress in 1864. When Nebraska became a state he was appointed Surveyor General and in 1871 defeated incumbent John M. Thayer to become Nebraska's first Republican Senator in Congress.

A sad note was attached to the decline of Mr. Poppleton's career when the gradual failure of his sight ended in total blindness in 1892. From that year, until the end of his life four years later, he dictated his autobiography which became a chief source of information on early Omaha.

John Lee Webster's dream had been to bring to Omaha an art museum but this dream was not to be realized until many years later — and then not by him, but by the widow of George A. Joslyn...

Mr. Joslyn was born in Lowell, Mass., in 1848, and reared in Vermont. He was a young man of only common education, but his eyes were to the West and to the unlimited possibilities it offered for position and fortune.

When he and his young wife reached Des Moines, en route west, their total assets amounted to $9. There they stayed while Mr. Joslyn worked at a $1.50-a-day job unloading paper from freight cars for the Iowa Printing Company, which supplied ready-printed inside pages for country newspapers.

Mr. Joslyn's employer noticed that he had ideas. He was given an office position, then in 1880 was made manager of the company's Omaha branch. That was the beginning of the Joslyn fortune.

Later in Omaha he founded the Western Newspaper Union, promoting it by 1900 to "the largest newspaper service organization in the world." When he died in 1916 he left the largest individual fortune in the history of Nebraska.

In the winter of 1923, Mrs. Sarah Joslyn announced the completion of plans for a memorial building to her husband. The three-million-dollar structure, the pride of modern Omaha, became the center of culture about which Mr. Webster had dreamed. It is the Joslyn Art Museum, completed in the early 1930's in the block bounded by Dodge Street and Capitol Avenue and Twenty-second and Twenty-fourth Streets.

The Joslyn mansion (the "Castle") at Thirty-ninth and Davenport is now occupied by the Omaha Board of Education.

Probably one of the most exasperating situations ever experienced in young Omaha occurred in the closing years of the 1880's and the early 1890's when the County Poor Farm Scandal frequently dominated front-page news.

The original site for the poor farm, a tract of 170 acres, had been purchased in 1859 for six thousand dollars. H. Z. Chapman, owner of the land in what later became the Field Club District, had been paid two thousand dollars in county warrants — worth 50 cents on the dollar — and had been given promissory notes, signed by the County Commissioners, for the balance.

Mr. Chapman later brought suit for collection. The court ruled against him.

In 1885 Mr. Chapman's heirs recovered judgment in the United States Supreme Court for principal and interest amounting to $14,732. The county paid. County Commissioners R. O'Keefe, F. W. Corliss and George W. Timme voted to sell the east 50 acres of the farm to raise money for a county hospital and poor farm.

The following February 26 County Judge J. H. McCulloch ordered an appraisal of the lots to be sold, and on April 13 Appraisers John Rush; Chris Hartmah and John L. McCague reported a total value of $206,450 on the 50 acres or an average of $878.51 per lot.

Later thousands of persons followed a brass band to the Poor Farm after seeing trees, fences and newspapers plastered with advertising that a public sale would be held. Auctioneer Thomas Riley mounted a dry-goods box. and offered Lot 1, Block 1, for sale. There was spirited bidding. The first lot went to W. I. Kierstead for $2,650. The income on the 235 lots was $330,480 for the books—$191,035 in cash and the balance in notes secured by mortgages.

But the collapse of 1887 was about to begin. The speculators who had bought the lots with mere $25 options tried to sell but there v)ere few takers. The boom was over.

That year, however, the County Commissioners adopted a resolution that the proceeds of the auction should be used toward the construction of a suitable building for the care and protection of the county poor and the mentally ill. Architect E. E. Myers of Detroit was employed, the firm of Ryan & Walsh was low bidder and received the contract for construction and Daniel L. Shane was hired as superintendent at one hundred dollars a month. Then the troubles began.

By the time the structure had been erected as high as the water table, it was receiving critical appraisal from Mr. Shane. He ordered work stopped, reporting his observation of inferior materials going into the building. His decision was sound.

Not long after, a section of the south wing, unable to sustain its own weight, crumbled to the ground in a cloud of mortar dust.

There was considerable censure from newspapers and the public, but the building was repaired and completed. The County Hospital was first occupied December 22, 1890, accommodating 165 patients and with additional, segregated quarters for 141 mentally ill. But the Poor Farm's problems were soon to multiply...

Early in the morning of May 12, 1892, Superintendent of the Poor Mahoney snorted into the Courthouse to report excitedly that his building was settling rapidly. The trouble, he said, was in the north wing — a section 160 feet long and three stories high. He had a terrifying story to tell:

Just after midnight a sound like the boom from a bass drum awakened his family. Mr. Mahoney hastily dressed and went through the building to investigate. His inspection showed nothing and he went back to bed. Early in the morning, he again went on a tour of inspection — this time giving. special attention to the north wing. Then he saw it — wide cracks in the interior and exterior walls from roof to foundation. He ran for Superintendent of Buildings Tilly, who took one look and ordered all inmates out of the structure.

The County Commissioners were broke. Nevertheless, they employed a new contractor to see what could be done to save the building. Inspector Tilly took contractor Richard Smith on a tour: No sooner had they entered the structure, preparatory to inspecting the roof supports, when the corridors fell with a rumbling crash that sent dust and debris flying. Collapse of the corridor supports had weakened the floor below them, and a second later it, too, gave way.

Later inquiries brought to light the fact that while the building was under construction the contractors even then had difficulty in keeping the walls standing!

End Installment VI homepage
Omaha's First Century - Installment VII
Omaha's First Century - Introduction