Hub of a Nation - City on the Prairie Realizes Its Destiny

Skyline of Buildings Hides the Hills Its Founders Loved; New Generations Can Look Ahead to 'Golden Years'

Possibly the greatest drama ever played in Omaha was a disaster in which the residents were the actors. That was the Easter tornado of March 23, 1913.

The Sunday had been typical of many — except for the weather which had been weird as well as uncomfortable. Gusty showers had alternated with warm sunshine. The humidity later caused, every one to feel little streams trickling down his back. But despite their discomfort Omahans went to Easter services in the morning, sat down to happy family dinner tables in the early afternoon, then went for walks or just rested.

Shortly before 4 p. m. an ominous stillness settled over the city. Lack of movement of trees and shrubs almost gave them a sinister appearance. Black clouds began riding in on swirling masses of air. They churned until they were transformed into a cloak of yellow, green and copper. About 6 p. m,.the peculiar feeling of quietness brought people outside to look at the sky. Uneasily they watched opposite-running cloud formations overhead.

A menacing, stately, yellow pillar of cloud stood in the southwest as if poised to spring upon the city. Majestically outlined against white thunderheads, it moved slowly inward, gathering momentum as it travelled but still bent upon a leisurely pace. A long, swirling tail dragged itself along, lifting momentarily, then dropping a sinister, black appendage like a finger of death.

The twisting cloud dragged itself diagonally across the city, taking 30 minutes to cut a wide swath of destruction from Fifty-fifth and Center Streets northeast across Fortieth and Farnam, through the Bemis Park District, on to Twenty-fourth and Lake Streets and into Carter Lake and Iowa. Its scar was seven miles long and a fourth of a mile wide. It killed 117 Omahans and injured about four hundred others. Troops from Fort Omaha, police and firemen were called out in force to restore order and patrol the disaster area to prevent looting. Next day three hundred men from the Nebraska National Guard were ordered to Omaha by the Governor. The World-Herald put out its famed "towline," originated by former Editor Richard L. Metcaife for Cuban relief, and raised more than 40 thousand dollars for relief of victims.

Another fund was raised by a Citizens' Committee, and the Legislature appropriated 100 thousand dollars for storm relief in the area. About 40 thousand dollars of the fund was spent in Omaha.

There were 37 additional deaths in the area, for the twister had torn destructively through Ralston, Yutan, Gretna, Union, Council Bluffs and Weston, la. By the time money had poured in from New York (16 thousand dollars) and surrounding states, the total relief fund soared to more than 420 thousand dollars.

An old Indian legend was thereby shattered. It was the Indians' belief that Omaha was protected from destructive storms because of the city's belt of hills. The legend also was to receive a kicking around by numerous other devastating windstorms since, but perhaps no violent weather disturbance — in Omaha, at least — ever caused a nation to rally to the relief of a Midwest metropolis as did the grim Easter Tornado of 1913...when a city lay wounded but lived to grow again.

A rising figure in Omaha politics at this time was James Dahlman, who in 1906 became Omaha's "Cowboy Mayor" and was to serve in that office 21 years.

"Mayor Jim," born in DeWitt County, Texas, in 1856, came to Nebraska in 1878 as a ranch hand near the present site of Gordon. He became foreman three years later and herded cattle from Oregon and the Indian Territory to Montana, the Dakotas and Western Nebraska. Later he became brand inspector for the Wyoming Stock Association at Valentine, then the terminus (1884) of the North Western Railway, and soon after bowed into politics by being elected Dawes County Sheriff. In 1885 he began the first of two terms as Mayor of Chadron, following these by serving twice as delegate to Democratic National Conventions in 1892 and 1896.

By then Mr, Dahlman had become a political influence in the state. To him goes some of the credit for having the Trans-Mississippi Exposition located at Omaha. He was offered the job of Police Chief in Omaha in 1896 but declined. That same year he helped carry Nebraska for Bryan, when he served as Democratic state chairman.

His formal introduction to Omaha came in 1899 when he joined the Union Stock Yards Company. He became Mayor for the first time in 1906 and was re-elected three times in succession. He was defeated in a race for Governor in 1910, served one year as United States Marshal in 1920, resigning that office to become Mayor for the fifth time.

When Mr. Dahlman first took office in 1906, Omaha was under the smile or frown of the Legislature. A policeman's salary could not be raised without permission from that body. Such a system placed an unnecessary responsibility upon the Legislature, for a great deal of its time each session was taken up by Omaha affairs.

During Mayor Jim's years in Omaha, tremendous changes took place in the city as it grew rapidly in population and wealth. There seemed to be no sane reason for continuing such an antiquated governmental system. Mr. Dahlman saw the absurdity of it. He proposed giving the city the right of governing itself — and the battle for "home rule" was begun.

It was a battle, too. The Mayor was accused of wanting to "secede" from the state. State legislators scoffed at Omaha's ability to control her own affairs. But Mr. Dahlman and his supporters continued to fight. At last a constitutional amendment was submitted to the voters, who approved it.

In 1912 Omaha adopted its present commission form of government. The voters elected seven Commissioners for a term of three years. These were Mr. Dahlman, Dan B. Butler, (later Mayor), Charles H; Withnell, J. J. Ryder, J. B. Hummel, A. C. Kugel and Patrick McGovern.

In Omaha political circles probably no other name caused so much controversy as that of Tom Dennison. Like Boss Curley of Boston, Boss Hague of New Jersey, Boss Crump of Memphis, Boss Pendergast of Kansas City and others, Dennison pulled the political strings in Omaha. He may not have packed the weight in his own realm as did the "powers" of other machines, but he was an influence nevertheless — enough to rate special mention at his death from T. J. Pendergast himself.

Dennison consistently denied in public that he had any suasive power over Omaha elections.

Said The World-Herald on "The Old Man's" death in February, 1934:

In his 44 years in Omaha, Dennison became widely known. His name long was linked with underworld associations, and he was the center of many a bitter fight. Feared and hated by his foes, he was no less beloved by his friends. But through the strife that seethed around him he moved always serenely, disclaiming both the wickedness of which he was accused and the power with which he was credited. He fought his enemies grimly, but quietly, and his charities, reputed to be many, were just as quietly bestowed...

Dennison came to Omaha as a gambler and soon became involved in politics. Hobbies of horse racing and dog breeding followed. Of all the suspicions leveled upon him, he was formally accused only three times of actual crime and in each case he was cleared. The last time was the Omaha liquor conspiracy case in which Dennison and 58 other defendants were freed.

Dennison once said that all the troubles he ever had came from politics. "I never harmed any one," he said. "I was indicted with 99 defendants, only six of whom I even knew."

One time, when he returned to Omaha after a lengthy absence in April, 1928, he was angered because of a report that an attempt had been made by one of his former political associates "to deliver the Dennison machine" to Bob Smith in behalf of Senator R. B. Howell at the primary election. .

"I've learned," he said, with a whimsical smile but still with that familiar cold glint in his steely eyes, "that the person used my name and said that he had authority from me to do it. Well, when I left Omaha in March I announced that I would take no part in the primary election and that nobody was authorized to represent me or use my name in politics. The man or men who tried to take advantage of my absence were plain liars. And I'll enjoy meeting them."

Of animals, Tom Dennison once said: "I like dogs. They're honest, and don't try to doublecross you."

The World-Herald, referring to the old Dennison days, wrote editorially September 29, 1948:

...The legend grew up that Dennison was a man whose word was as good as his bond. It was hardly that. Dennison sometimes promised his support to more than one candidate for the same office.

Eventually, of course, he would have to make his choice. If accused by the disappointed ones of faithlessness, he had a ready answer. He had made the promise in good faith, he would explain assuming that his principal subordinate, Billy Nesselhous, would go along. But, he would continue indignantly, that blankety-blank Nesselhous had refused. It was Nesselhous's fault.

Nesselhous, who never aimed to be popular, did not mind being blamed. And Old Tom remained everybody's friend.

William E. (Billy) Nesselhous for many years was a close friend and business associate of Dennison.

Dennison's power — perhaps influence is a better word — rode high until the late 1920's when it began to slip. The machine showed signs of conking out shortly before 1930. The faithful feared "the old man" was losing his grip, but it was not so much that as a sign of the times. When one or another trusted lieutenant tried to take over and failed, the curtain actually was falling on the last act of the Dennison days. The "system" — in Omaha at least — had lost its appeal.

Meanwhile, Boss Tom had had his share of illnesses and domestic troubles — a paralytic stroke, in June, 1932, from which he recovered; pneumonia in December of that same year (there were no wonder drugs then); and a suit for divorce from his 20-year-old wife, Mrs. Nevajo Truman Dennison, in August of 1933.

Long a widower, Dennison had married her in October of 1930. Several factors were said to have contributed to the divorce, among them "a great difference in ages," according to Mrs. Dennison, and "the Federal Investigation which resulted in Dennison's indictment in the liquor syndicate case," according to the young wife's attorney.

Dennison's ill health frequently made it questionable as to whether he could even Stand trial. He survived, however, and was acquitted. Soon after, while visiting in California in February, 1934, he was fatally injured in an auto accident near Chula Vista. He was 75.

More than a thousand persons from Omaha's business, official and sporting life overflowed St. Peter's Catholic Church on February 20, 1934, for the funeral rites. One hundred eight cars made up the procession to Forest Lawn Cemetery.

His safe deposit box was opened after his death. All that was found in it were three empty wallets, a memorandum of a trust set up several years previously for Dennison's daughter, a letter from an outstate man asking help in getting a job, a fair amount of dust — and several paper clips!

Omaha in the first half of the Twentieth Century became the hub of a nation — the bread-basket distributing point and railroad center for a country twice at war. Twice young men by the thousands bade goodbye to their home state to go overseas and finish the fight.

Omahans who remember the city during World War I will recall the booming cannon, followed by the band playing "The Star Spangled Banner," each day at sunset at the Fort Omaha Observation-Balloon Training Center Headquarters at Thirtieth and Fort Streets. They'll remember the anxiety ,of 19 agonizing months and the final, triumphal celebration in downtown Omaha the night the Armistice was announced in November, 1918.

Less than a year later another crowd converged upon the business dictrict — but not the peaceful, joyous throng which heralded the war's end. This crowd was a mob...

"We ought to string him up—"

Those words were assembled into an incendiary sentence quite casually on Sunday, September 28, 1919, by one of a group of boys and young men who had gathered at a school yard to play games. The irresponsible comment soon erupted into the most tragic riot in the city's history.

The spark that set it off had ignited three days earlier when a man accosted a crippled youth and his girl friend, robbed the youth and took the girl off into the darkness. Making the customary roundup, police brought in a young Negro named Will Brown. They took him to the girl. She identified him. Word spread fast and small groups began to congregate on street corners. Police took Brown to the Douglas County Courthouse jail for safe keeping.

Then came the flame that flared into a conflagration.

"We ought to string him up—"

The boys,began an impromptu march toward downtown. Others joined the disorderly parade. Police tried to break up the march, but tempers were short and the mob was in an ugly mood.

"They're after blood," reported an officer to his chief.

Police details were reinforced. But still the crowd grew. It converged upon the Courthouse. Eyes were fixed to the barred windows on the sixth floor. Citizens had been told that the jail was impregnable. No one could reach it. The crowd shouted, "We want Brown! Give us Brown!"

The mob swelled — fed by ex-convicts and bums from lower Douglas Street, tough characters who took charge of little groups, and just plain bystanders. An estimated six thousand had surrounded the Courthouse by 6 p. m. Police, fighting at the entrances, were engulfed in the crowd. The mob drove defenders of the Harney Street doors inside the big building, putting them under barrages of brickbats. Police turned on fire hoses, drove the rioters back. But they returned, hurling rocks and bricks through windows.

There was the ring of shattered glass. A few pistol shots reverberated through the night air. A mob formed a charging army and broke into the building. Police retreated up the wide, marble stairways.

The mobsters saturated furniture, record books and interior woodwork with gasoline and set it afire. The Courthouse became an inferno, flames leaping from windows from the first to the top floor beneath the jail. Heat from the fire put the spectators into retreat. It could be felt hot on the face a block away at Eighteenth and Douglas Streets.

The rioters cut fire hoses to ribbons. Some mobsters broke into hardware stores to get arms and ammunition.

The rising smoke and intensity of the heat forced Sheriff Mike Clark to take his prisoners to the roof. The scared captives looked at Brown threateningly. The Sheriff stopped them from throwing Brown over the edge into the mass of frenzied humanity below.

Then Mayor Ed P. Smith somehow made his way to the roof. On his way back down he attempted to talk to rioters on the second floor. They shot at him, pulled him down, dragged him down the steps and out the Harney Street doors. The mob carried him to Sixteenth and Harney Streets, tossed a rope over a traffic tower in the intersection and put a noose around the Mayor's neck. He was hauled up. One man against the mob, Russell Norgaard, made two attempts to rescue Mayor Smith. He failed. An emergency police car plowed through the crowd. Detective Ben F. Danbaum cut the Mayor down and rushed him unconscious to a hospital. He lived, but the ordeal was said to have shortened his life.

At the Courthouse, Sheriff dark was leading his prisoners down what he thought were private back stairs, unknown to the public. But at the fourth floor, the mob met them and demanded Brown.

"Here he Is," shouted the other prisoners and passed the kicking, striking, screaming Brown over their heads to the mob. Brown was knocked down, shot a dozen times and killed outright.

The mob dragged the body outside and hanged it at Eighteenth and Harney Streets. Later, they burned it on a pyre at Seventeenth and Dodge.

Troops from Fort Omaha were too late. All was quiet by midnight.

The riot was Omaha's shame and attracted nationwide notoriety. It cost the county taxpayers 550 thousand dollars to repair the Courthouse and 220 thbusand dollars to replace burned records. Some never could be restored. In addition, the people of Douglas County paid $626,250 in interest on the bond issue that was authorized at a special session of the Legislature to pay the damage.

The lynching of Will Brown cost Douglas County taxpayers $1,396,250.

"The Roaring 20's" will be remembered for their run of prohibition-era hoodlums who patronized the various "speakeasies" and delivered illegal hooch in baby buggies and other camouflaged transport. There was, for example, one man who was a skilled laborer, lived in a big home and drove a Pierce-Arrow on Sunday and a Model-T Ford pickup truck to his jobs on week days. He kept his still hidden in the basement and delivered his hooch from the bottom of his tool chest while going to work in the mornings.

The 1920's will also be recalled for carefree years of bobbed hair, knee-length dresses with hip-high (or hip-low!) belt lines, rolled stockings and the "Charleston."

It was the Jazz Age with high life in roadhouses, vaudeville at the Orpheum, World and Empress Theaters and burlesque at the old Gayety. Jack Holt, standing beside his white horse with one arm around "Barbara Worth" (whom he had just won), was gazing into the sunset at the Rialto. Douglas Fairbanks was leaping high walls and skipping across rooftops at the Strand, and Wesley Barry was a freckle-faced schoolboy getting into all kinds of innocent trouble on the Sun Theater's screen.

They were years of a weak post-war prosperity that saw new houses sprouting up all over Omaha — days that added up to fun and big money...until Black Tuesday...

On October 20, 1929, a few days before the greatest debacle in stock market history, Financial writer J. C. Royle wrote in The World-Herald:

There are fewer thin spots in the business fabric today than at any time since 1920. This is due not because of high prices; in fact, the general list shows a decline in wholesale prices. It is due to the broad general demand for commodities... Steed demand is fine... Farmers have cash... Rails are making more profit...

Times were considered good. Disaster was unheard of. Yet it came.

The stock market storm broke in full force on Tuesday, October 29, 1929. There is no standard by which to measure the selling panic which crept into Wall Street in cat-like silence and ripped the financial district wide open. The market value of the nation's productive machinery plunged, in a matter of minutes, by billions of dollars.

Not until November 13 was the rout halted. In less than three weeks, securities values tumbled 23 billion dollars. It was the start of the Great Depression.

In Omaha, as everywhere, business slowly ground almost to a halt. People, shocked and dazed, were afraid to move. In human terms the losses could be measured in dollars and cents; in the bankruptcy record, the destruction of lifetime savings, in foreclosed mortgages, in pawn shop tickets. It could be measured, too, in the desperate, haggard faces of the new poor, in dead dreams, in'the pathetic bewilderment of little people and big people all over the country, as well as in Omaha.

Indeed, the "Roaring 20's" went out with a howl!

They had left In their wake a wave of prohibition-era gang killings that put Harry P. Lapidus, Gene Livingston, George Kubik and Sam Villella, Grover (Whitey) Petty and Clarence Hanfelt among the major victims.

The World-Herald's Edward Morrow wrote in the Sunday Magazine: "...During the early days of prohibition there were times when a man had trouble finding a drink. That was before the trade got organized... In a couple of years you could go up three flights, knock on the door and ask for Tony. Or you could call a dealer who would bring the stuff to your door ($2 a pint with a phony label or $8 a gallon for the same stuff without any label).

"Alcohol was available in tin cans for bathtub gin. Beer flats bloomed every place... Prohibition hadn't been with us long before a pretty sinister element entered the picture.

...The bootleggers were not familiar with the usual methods of sales promotion used by business. And, being the sort of people they were, they had a tendency toward direct action, anyway. So, If somebody got in their way, their direct minds suggested that the reasonable thing to do was to bump the guy off."

Thus, the gang killings. Lapidus, well-known business man, was murdered December 23, 1931. His slaying remains a mystery.

A shotgun blast through a speakeasy window nearly blew Gene Livingston in half. Livingston was a bootleg racketeer with a big car, chauffeur, a moll and a flashy wardrobe. George Kubik, once a lieutenant for Livingston, was a tough independent. He wouldn't tie up with a syndicate, so he was taken for "a ride." He pleaded in vain with the mobsters, "Don't shoot me, boys." But they shot him.

Clarence Hanfelt was shot down on the steps of his home in approved gangland fashion. So were Ted Balistreri and Sam Villella. They found Ted shot to death in his room. They found Sam on his face on a farm near South Omaha where he was tending a still.

There were others — all pretty much following the same pattern: Walk in our parade or ride in your own funeral procession. Many rode...

The 1930's — sometimes called "The Complacent 30's" — were hardly eventless, but in Omaha they were far from memorable. It was a decade of peace and national economic recovery and of moderate local expansion.

Omahans, hard-hit by the depression, were making strides in starting over and were beginning once more to enjoy life. Real estate men were again starting to chalk up sales arid draw up building contracts.

But there were losses, too. A roller coaster disaster hastened the end of Krug Amusement Park.

The historic Central High School Cadet Regiment hauled down its colors a year after its final encampment was wrecked by a storm at Valley, Neb., and in 1937 became a Junior ROTC in the olive drab of the Army. The colorful blue-gray uniforms of the cadets were put in mothballs to be gotten out again only if some curio hunter was interested.

Hitler started on a rampage in Europe, following Mussolini's example in Ethiopia, but while Omahans read the headlines they felt only normal concern. There were more important things at home to occupy their lives. Recovery was becoming an accomplished fact. Omahans turned to giving their traditional fun-loving nature an outlet.

Golden Spike Days did it. This gala celebration, in April of 1939, was scheduled for only four days and nights, but its popularity carried it through a full week. There was a bubbling carnival spirit. An irrepressible wave of fun and excitement spread over the city. Streets were packed at times with more than 250 thousand persons, many in costume-styles of the 1860's.

The occasion marked the seventieth anniversary of the driving of the famed golden spike in Utah, completing the transcontinental railroad. The formal celebration honored the world premiere of the movie, "Union Pacific." A com-
pany of movie stars, headed by director Cecil B. DeMille, glamorized the celebration as men became cowboys and "gamblers" in silk shirts, tall beaver hats and frontier hats, with sideburns, mustaches and beards to go along with the mid-Eighteenth Century dress.

Their ladies wore crinoline dresses, gingham gowns, hoop skirts, shirt waists, shawls and bonnets. False fronts were erected in front of some downtown stores, many of them on Douglas Street, to show how Omaha looked in 1869.

Streets were alive with two-horse rigs, cowboys on horseback, covered wagons. There were parades and traffic jams. Not since the Trans-Mississlppi Exposition had Omahans and their neighbors turned out in such magnitude.

Hollywood was outdone.

As The World-Herald said, kidding Hollywood: "It was stupendous — terrific — super-colossal. It was titanic, enormous, magnitudinous. It was incredible, vast and indescribable. It was dazzling, scintillating, blazing, coruscating and
fulgurating." It was...but hard years again were ahead — for that fall Adolf Hitler invaded Poland...

VIII.—Modern Times
(1940-1954)

World War I altered the American way of life. It turned us into an industrial nation. In the years that followed, everything took on a new look — from clothing styles to architecture, from automobile design to streamlined electric toasters. Omaha changed its appearance, also.

There was a slowing-down during the 1930's. Then World War II brought a return to rapid progress. Hitler caused the destruction of much of Europe; and in so doing, he indirectly speeded the modernization of America. And as the nation switched from peacetime to wartime operations, cities turned into arsenals.

Omaha then was headquarters for the Seventh Corps Area, later the Seventh Service Command.

In a national campaign originated by The World-Herald, Omahans and outstate Nebraskans gathered thousands of tons of scrap metal to feed the sinews of war. Early-morning buses were crowded each day with men and women en route to the big Martin Bomber Plant at Fort Crook to contribute their bit in building B-26 Marauders and B-29 Superfortresses to smother the Axis Powers. The highway to Wahoo was a parade of autos and special buses carrying workers to the Mead Ordnance Plant to load shells for far-flung battle fronts.

The Omaha Steel Works employed 1,200 workers on three shifts during the wartime peak. Omahans by the thousands labored around the clock in the city's great food-processing plants, to feed America and many foreign lands. Omahans purchased War Bonds, planted Victory Gardens, counted their ration stamps, went without meat and drove to grocery stores on bald-headed auto tires.

When it was over, many of Omaha's sons could not be counted among those who returned. As a lasting tribute, beautiful Memorial Park came into being at Happy Hollow Boulevard between Underwood Avenue and Dodge Street. Meanwhile, Omaha had become headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, and a new, healthy city was being enriched by the addition of agricultural equipment makers, metal fabrication and machinery producers and new food-packing plants.

In the 11 years between 1939 and 1950 Omaha added 45 new industries. In 1900 the city had 19 per cent of all the state's factories, with 150 in Omaha. Fifty years later there were 450. Bank clearings in 1900 were $316,537,043. In 1949 there were $5,911,094,222.

The city's livestock industry, wholesale and retail trades, transportation and insurance businesses contributed heavily to its post-war family prosperity. Today, 33 insurance companies have home offices in the city. Premium income for 1953 was calculated by four major companies to be well above the 1952 total of $225,270,753.

Omaha in its Centennial Year is still spreading. New manufacturing plants, office structures and towering apartment buildings have sprouted upon ground that once supported landmarks. Modern residential districts have expanded the city's fringes. Low, sprawling ranch homes in pinks, greens and whites were planted one by one across the western hills where a century ago no man would have ventured unarmed.

Right after the war's end, thick, gray smoke marked the city as an industrial metropolis, but modern scientific processes have smothered the smoke problem. Buses gradually replaced streetcars until now only two lines remain.

Omaha today stands doge to the top among the country's food-manufacturing cities. Furniture-making firms, ranging from upholsterers to mattress-makers, have put their Omaha labels into areas far beyond the Midwest.

Television towers and tall buildings today form a skyline that hides the hills so beloved by the pioneers. Trails of a hundred years ago have given way to bands of concrete which are today's commercial arteries. Some 160 firms operate trucking in and out of the city. Barge lines have given freighting a rebirth on the Missouri.

In its Centennial Year Omaha possesses home offices of the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company's five-state net-work, the Northern Natural Gas Company, which directs operation of its vast web of pipe lines from its new building east of Twenty-Fourth Street on the south side of Dodge Street, and the Corn States Serum Company, whose products annually protect a half million dollars worth of livestock from disease.

Nine national banks boast deposits totaling $371,337,941. The output of packinghouse products is valued at about 200 million dollars annually. Omaha lost top place to Chicago in 1953 but it still shattered all its previous records for cattle receipts. Some 2,321,117 head were channeled through the Omaha outlet.

The city today is the hub of a complicated web of transcontinental railroads and highways. Ten trunk railroads with a total of 73 thousand miles of track haul freight and passengers in and out of the city in a never-ending stream. Omaha lies on the main transcontinental airways. Its Municipal Airport, covering 843 acres, is on the crossroads of the United Air Lines Atlantic-Pacific route and Braniff International Airways linking Canada to South America.

At Offutt Air Force Base, SAC headquarters, a $6,656,000 Congress-approved runway-lengthening project was the big Omaha military news in 1953. The program will enable the base to handle the Air Force's biggest bombers,

The multi-million-dollar Omaha Production Company, a division of the Sperry Corporation, was an important sign of post-war industrial decentralization.

By 1954, the Omaha Industrial Foundation had shown progressive results. Continental Can Company was pushing toward completion of a $7,500,000 plant on a 40-acre tract in the east half of the industrial district near Seventy-second and F Streets. The Allied Chemical and Dye Corporation's La Platte plant south of Omaha stands with Continental Can as one of the city's biggest postwar developments.

And there were other signs. Building receipts exceeded 15 million dollars. Twenty-four new residential additions were created in 1953, with 2,393 housing units completed in the metropolitan area by year's end.

Omahans saw the brick facing climbing upward around the steel and concrete framework of their new six-million-dollar City Auditorium. They saw three major projects either finished or nearing completion for the Metropolitan Utilities District, Omaha's publicly-owned supplier of water and gas — the new Field Club Reservoir, the Turner Boulevard Pumping Station and the 48-inch water main from Thirtieth and Cuming Streets to the new pumping station - an investment of about two million dollars. Another project, the new mixing basin at the Florence Pumping Station, will cost about 200 thousand dollars.

Today the District has 70,100 water and 70,118 gas customers. The Omaha Public Power District at the opening of 1954 counted a total of 102,946 electric customers. Of this figure, there were at this date 87,498 electric customers — residential and business — in Omaha and its fringe areas. The total number shows an increase of more than 29 thousand since 1940.

Too, the city's economy was growing stronger and more stable, with high employment, higher wages, a record construction boom, a new high in wholesale sales and increases in retail sales and in the value of manufactured products. Total postal receipts for 1953, as noted on December 28, were $6,958,574.72 as against $6,666,180 for all of 1952.

Douglas County's population was still on the rise. The number of people in the county probably passed the 300 thousand mark early in 1954. Omaha today has 129,200 telephones. An average of 712,500 calls were put through each day in Omaha in 1953.

Gratifying evidence of civic achievement surrounds Omahans in their city's Centennial Year. There is the City-Wide Planning Commission; the building of the Outer Drive, with massive reinforced concrete piers waiting to support a viaduct over the Union Pacific Shops along the new arterial linking the Municipal Airport with downtown Omaha; construction of a Belt Line Highway; plans for increased parking facilities in downtown Omaha; remodeled and modernized department stores; a small but firm step toward solving the city's slum problem, and the long stride toward easing the community's traffic congestion by the adoption of an engineer's report calling for a one-way street plan.

Upon the petition of Omahans, about 15 miles of new residential streets were constructed in 1953, exclusive of the major highway-improvement projects.

Omaha has a curious collection of street names. Many were named for politicians and statesmen.

Pierce Street was named for President Franklin Pierce. According to Clay H. Thomas, veteran Omaha real estate man and a long-time authority on the subject, the first street south of Pierce was named for Gen. Winfield Scott, who was defeated for the Presidency by Mr. Pierce in 1852. Several blocks immediately south of Pierce Street, Mr. Thomas explains, were replatted in an irregular manner and parts of the street vacated. This action resulted in the disappearance of the name from the original plat.

Pacific Street, obviously, was named after the ocean. Mason Street is said to have been named for Judge Mason of Iowa, Marcy Street for William L. Marcy, Secretary of State under President Pierce; Leavenworth Street for Gen. Henry Leavenworth.

Mr. Thomas says there is some doubt as to the naming of Jones and Jackson Streets. Some say the former was named for Alfred D. Jones. Others contend it was to honor George W. Jones, who had been a prominent lowan and an intimate friend of the men who founded the town. Mr. Thomas leans toward the latter.

Jackson Street was named for Andrew Jackson, a Democratic President. Some, however, have said it was for James A. Jackson, one of the townsite owners. None of the other owners of the ferry company or townsite was recognized in naming streets, Mr. Thomas explains, so he contends it is probable the nation's seventh President was the man who was honored.

Farnam Street took Its name from Henry Farnham, a wealthy banker of Hartford, Conn., and one of the promoters of the building of the Rock Island Railroad. The street at first was spelled Farnham; later the "h" was dropped. It was Enos Lowe who named the street for his friend.

A Colonel Howard, the father-in-law of Mr. Farnham, was honored in the naming of Howard Street. Harney derives its name from Gen. William S. Harney who was stationed in the West in the 1850's. Douglas Street's identification came from Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln's opponent for the Presidency in 1860. Iowa's United States Senator Augustus C. Dodge was honored in the naming of Dodge Street and not Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific, as many have believed.

In the early days, relates Mr. Thomas, a firm of bankers from Davenport, Ia., opened a banking house in Florence and the members of the firm influenced the naming of Davenport Street in honor of their home town. Cass Street came from Lewis Cass, Democratic candidate for President in 1848 against Zachary Taylor. California Street derives its name from the fact that travelers to the California gold fields are said to have used the road as they went west from the river. Webster Street came from Daniel Webster, the famed statesman.

Here are the original names of streets north from Webster, in proper sequence: Antelope, Badger, Buffalo, Elk, Otter, Eagle and Swan. All were renamed. Antelope, Badger and Buffalo soon became Burt, Cuming and Izard to honor Nebraska's first three Territorial Governors, Francis Burt, T. B. Cuming and Mark W. Izard.

The year 1953 was the biggest construction year in history for Omaha hospitals, and the dream of a Medical Center at last was becoming a reality. Eight hospitals were involved in the gigantic building program.

The biggest single item was six million dollars for the University of Nebraska College of Medicine at Omaha. Approval of that project by the legislators triggered an 11-million-dollar development on and adjacent to the College of Medicine campus.

On the heels of the University expansion program came the announcement of a new $3,500,000 Clarkson Hospital, and the sale of Clarkson properties to Lutheran Hospital. Out of plans made in 1953, Omaha's Medical Center will include an expanded College of Medicine, Clarkson Hospital, Childrens Memorial Hospital which Omahans built after it was proposed and started by The World-Herald following the war, and the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute.

Lutheran Hospital's plans are to increase its total bed capacity from 150 to 350, including care for the aged, when it takes over the present Clarkson property. Immanuel Hospital started work on a 575-thousand-dollar addition to the School of Nursing and in the fall of 1953 approved plans for a hospital addition at a cost of 750 thousand dollars.

Methodist Hospital's new wing, completed in 1953, added 80 rooms to its facilities. Improvements also were made at St. John's, Doctors and St. Catherine's Hospitals.

The Omaha of today probably stands beyond the highest expectations of even such men of vision as Editors Pattison and Johnson when they wrote their prophetic editorial by a campfire on the naked plateau back in July, 1854.

From Miss Goodwill's first private school in a room of the old Statehouse has emerged one hundred years later an educational system in Omaha that includes 66 public elementary schools, five public high schools, 35 parochial elementary schools, nine parochial high schools and four colleges and universities. Figures for 1954's enrollments show 63 thousand students, ranging from kindergarten to college level.

And from the few, scattered little frame churches with top-heavy steeples of a century ago have come 211 Protestant churches of major denominations, 39 Catholic churches and six Jewish synagogues.

To meet the heavy demand for additional classroom space in the schools, 11 new projects were completed, in Douglas County at the opening of 1954, with 22 others in the building or planning stage. Three new Omaha public school buildings were opened in 1953.

Seven projects figured in the building programs of the parochial schools in 1953, and in the Centennial Year plans for several others were developing.

Creighton University added three student dormitories, remodeled from existing buildings.

So post-war progress — in business, transportation, education, art and private housing — is Omaha's tribute to its founders on its one hundredth birthday. The beautiful Joslyn Art Museum's permanent collection was swelled by 592 pieces of art during 1953 alone.

The Omaha Symphony Orchestra in 1953-1954 had the most successful season in the history of the present organization. Omaha's Civil Defense Organization recruited seven hundred new members in 1953 to boost its enrollment to 2,726.

And there were other evidences, too. Were Editors Pattison and Johnson to return today, they would indeed rub their eyes. They would see a city expanded by the incorporation of areas that reach far to the north, southland west of the pioneers' plateau. They would admire the beautiful University of Omaha on West Dodge Street which has grown to its present status from a humble beginning in 1909 at Twenty-fourth and Evans Streets; and Boys Town, which Msgr. Edward J. Flanagan built through years of strong faith in and of undying devotion to homeless boys.

Yes, and they would see giant streamliners pulling in and out of the passenger terminal, mighty airliners taking off and landing by way of all directions at the big Municipal Airport.

They would hear stories of heroism in hours of peril during the big Missouri River floods of 1943 and 1952.

But the roster of men and events could go on almost endlessly. And there will be more names in the future—names to be remembered.

Thumbing through the pages of dusty old newspaper files, one can find an editorial printed in The World-Herald on January 1, 1900, when Omahans thought they had left their golden years behind. One paragraph says:

Omaha stands on the threshold of the greatest development in her history. We firmly believe that the Twentieth Century will see this city as the center of a vast market area, a golden city that will supply a golden life. It would be pleasant to be here.

That prophecy, it seems safe to assume, will have no conclusion. Omahans did not leave their golden years behind. They are still ahead. For even today we can re-read the above peek-into-the-future and leave it once more for our men and women of tomorrow.

Yes, it would be pleasant to be here!

The End

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Omaha's First Century - Introduction