Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Douglas County
Produced by Liz Lee.

Part 1      Part 3

City of Omaha

Note: Please refer back to the Omaha first page, or to the Chapter Table of Contents for the complete listing.

SECTION 1:  The Early DaysSECTION 2:  More Early Days
SECTION 3:  Omaha in 1870SECTION 4:  Present Day (1882)
SECTION 5:  CrimesSECTION 6:  Fires and Public Works

Board of Health | Hanscom Park | Post Office
The Railway Mail Service

SECTION 8:  The Press in Omaha
SECTION 9:  Press ContinuedSECTION 10:  Religious
SECTION 11:  Religious (cont.)SECTION 12:  Cemetery and Schools
SECTION 13:  Legal and MedicalSECTION 14:  Opera House-Hotels-Business
SECTION 15:  SocietiesSECTION 16:  Societies Continued
SECTION 17:  BusinessSECTION 18:  Manufacturing
SECTION 19:  Manufacturing (cont.)

20 - 46:

   ** Omaha Biographical Sketches **
| WOODARD~ZEHRUNG | West Omaha Precinct | Douglas Precinct |

List of Illustrations in Douglas County Chapter

City of Omaha 7


The Board of Health of the city of Omaha, properly speaking, took its origin with the early organization of the city. Owing to the far-reaching foresight and sagacity of those instrumental in the establishment of the city government, and acting upon the motto, "In time of peace prepare for war," they were wisely inserted in the city charter a provision requiring the election of a health officer. From this, then, dates the existence of the Board of Health, and A. Chappel was the first elected to fill the office. It was made the incumbent duty of the Health Officer to have in charge the sanitary condition of the city, and to have power to adopt, during the prevalence of an epidemic, any regulations he might deem necessary, and to take prompt measures to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious, malignant or infectious diseases within the city, and all the city officers are required to observe and carry out all regulations made by the Board of Health.

It is also the duty of the Board of Health to establish and secure temporary hospitals or pest houses, when necessary, and to make needful provision for the reception, care and treatment of patients. The city physician is required to render medical service to every person sick with an infectious and contagious disease; to examine into all nuisances, sources of filth and causes of sickness within the city, and to report the same to the Board of Health, together with the number and character of all cases of contagious, malignant infectious or epidemic diseases. The city physician is also required to discharge such services as he may be called upon in his official character to perform, free of charge, except what the Board shall determine and give him. To prevent their introduction, it is made an offence punishable by fine and imprisonment, for any person to knowingly introduce into the city the small pox or other infectious or contagious disease.

In its earlier history, the Board of Health was practically of little importance, partly for the reason that as yet the requirements made upon it were few and limited, and partly because little attention was paid to carrying out the objects and purposes for which it was created. It, therefore, for a number of years after its establishment, had but a mere existence, and was of little value as a public institution. On December 19, 1871, the City Council passed an ordinance creating what is commonly called the Board of Health, but which was simply changing the old system, and putting it in a new form, making it to consist of the Mayor, President of the City Council, Marshal, and a physician who was appointed by the Mayor by and with the consent of the Council, and was called the Board of Health. Even with this change the board was not prompted to a more zealous or determined spirit to effect the objects of its creation; but still continued in a sort of comatose or inactive condition. Not until 1878 was it stimulated to proper action. At this date a change was made in the constitution of the board by the passing of an ordinance by the City Council making the city physician a regular and elective member of the board, at which time the board was made to consist of the Mayor, President of Council, Marshal and city physician. This change was occasioned by the attempt of Dr. R. C. Moore to organize an independent board of health, but failing in his project, he set about to devise some means by which to secure greater efficiency from the present board, and which resulted in the enlargement of the board both in its membership and duties. From this change dates the beginning of the usefulness and efficiency of the Board of Health, and which ever since has continued to improve its usefulness and value to the people of the city as a health-restoring, health-protecting and sanitary regulating institution. For this improvement, credit is due mainly to the personal efforts of Dr. Moore, who was instrumental in setting on foot the measures by which it was produced. So far the general health of the people of the city has been extremely good, having, fortunately, escaped the ravages of diseases of an epidemic or contagious character to any alarming extent.

The first appearance of anything of this kind was in the winter of 1861, when the small pox broke out, having been brought to the city by a traveler. Its presence created widespread alarm among the inhabitants. Owing, however, to the skillful and prompt efforts of the physicians of the city, the disease was soon brought under control and exterminated before it had spread to any considerable extent. Ten cases were all that were reported at this time, most all of which recovered. Six of these were confined to persons living in the Douglas House, and the remaining ones in different parts of the city.

Not until April and May of 1881 did this disease make a re-appearance, when it was brought into the city by an emigrant from Philadelphia. As soon as the character of the disease was discovered the patient was hastily removed and securely corralled to prevent the inoculation of the malady. But two other cases were reported. By this occurrence, the people of the city were stirred up to the taking of precautionary measurers against the disease, which resulted in requiring all the children attending the public schools to be vaccinated, and also stimulated the authorities to an improvement of the sanitary condition of the city. By far the most alarming epidemic that has yet visited the city was that of the Asiatic Cholera on 1866-67. Some forty-five cases of this disease were reported, only a small proportion of which proved fatal. The immediate cause of its appearance remains an unsolved mystery.

In the fall of 1876 the first case of diphtheria in the city was reported, having broke out in a family by the name of Doyle, and from it nearly the whole family died. By timely and energetic efforts it was checked and its further spread prevented. Since then the disease has made an occasional appearance but not to any serious or alarming extent. Another and by far the most troublesome cause of distemper to the health of the inhabitants of Omaha, is that of malarial fever, prevailing mostly in the fall season of the year. This malady is produced mainly by the annual overflow of the Missouri River bottoms lying just below the city. From this, heaps of decaying vegetation and large ponds of stagnant water are accumulated from which, during the hot summer season, the atmosphere is laden with the malarial and death-dealing poisons and gases that are then generated.

It is certainly surprising, not only that it has not been done already, but vastly more so, that no present measures are set on foot, nor even talked of, for the removal of this great health destroying cause. Not until those bottoms are properly drained, and the accumulations of those masses of vegetable matter are removed, may the citizens of Omaha hope to escape these annual visits of malarial and other fevers. Why, we might wonder, has this not been done already? Is the subject one of slight importance that it should be treated with such shameful neglect? Are not the people of Omaha, by their acts of omission in this respect, committing suicide of themselves and the murder of hundreds of each other annually? And all for what, when this great reservoir wherein are generated these poisonous fumes of disease, contagion and death, may be so easily be prevented, by a removal of the cause. Here surely is a broad field for the exertions of the Board of Health in arousing, prompting and stimulating the people to action, in relation to this matter. No object could be more laudable and none whose accomplishment would be hailed with louder acclamations of gratitude, not only by the sick and afflicted but by the able bodied and strong, as well. Aside from the times of which we have spoken and also from the local causes, the general healthfulness of the citizens of the city of Omaha, has been remarkably excellent. The high altitude, the rarefied, pure, bracing and healthful atmosphere inspires the body with health and vigor. Pulmonary affections, generated in this climate, are extremely rare, and even those brought here from other places, if not wholly and permanently cured, are vastly improved and benefited. As the value of human life and health are above and beyond the value of houses and lands, so are the labors and duties of the life and health protecting officer greater in importance and more beneficent than those of the treasurer and tax gatherer. With this view of the subject, and acting upon the principle, "that self-preservation is the first law of nature," we feel confident that even yet stronger efforts will be put forth by those on the Board of Health, inspired and stimulated by the interests and assistance of the people, to make it an institution, in effect, worthy of the cause with which it has to deal, and that through its instrumentality, the city of Omaha will become a fountain of perpetual health, freed from the appearance of noxious and fatal diseases. But with whatever energy and purpose the Board of Health may have labored to place the city in a good sanitary condition there is, at present, much need for further exertion in this direction. A word to the wise is sufficient. As a matter of interest to some, it may be, we append a statement of the deaths and births in the city, for three consecutive years. By reference to the reports of the city physician, we find the number of deaths for eleven months of 1879, to be 340 and for the same time the number of births are 242, for 1880, deaths 365, births 404; for eleven months of 1881, deaths 411, births 606. The excess of births over deaths for the whole time given is 136.


Among the suburban attractions of Omaha, Hanscom Park may be properly mentioned as the chief. Some years ago about forty acres of rough wooded land on the west side of what is now known as Park avenue was donated to the city of Omaha by A. J. Hanscom and James G. McGeath. The only especial attraction of this property was a limpid stream flowing through its center, down to which the woodland on either side gently sloped. It possessed, however, the advantages of near location and an abundant supply of wood growth, and therefore the city authorities determined to develop whatever of beauty there was, and make as attractive a place for resort in the summer time as was possible. These efforts have more than been successful, as every lover of beauty in nature can testify. Hanscom Park, as it is now, is doubtless one of the most inviting retreats of the kind possessed by any city. The underbrush once cut away and the trees trimmed, a velvety carpet of softest grass and clover spread over the whole. From the main entrance on the east side of the park, which is guarded by a handsome and durable arch, a broad graveled driveway leads directly westward and then divides into two branches, which are again divided and crossed by numerous roads, finely graded and extending in graceful curves to every nook and corner of the enclosure. On one side of the pretty little stream, at a slight elevation, is a graceful structure called the park house, which is occupied by the custodian of the grounds. Adjoining the park house is a large dancing pavilion and a deer enclosure. The dancing platform is strongly supported, and tastily surrounded with trellis work, and furnishes as pleasant a dancing floor as can be found or wished for. The attractive features of the park are so numerous that particular notice would be impracticable. Its trees are of many years, and even centuries, growth and furnish a most delightful and refreshing shade. The varieties of woods found in the park furnish the curious with a plentiful number of subjects; the different kinds of grasses and shrubbery delight the eye and invite to a luxurious day-dream, while the sparkling stream, handsome cottage and tasteful adjuncts heighten the beauty of the park to a degree that alike captivates resident and stranger who enter its gates. A number of improvements will be made the coming year, and it is probable that Hanscom Park will, for many years, be the favorite place for summer resort. The city has already expended over $30,000 in beautifying this park, and during last year $1,500 was appropriated for that purpose by the City Council.


In November, 1853, the ancient pioneer citizen, Alfred D. Jones crossed the Missouri River in an old leaky skiff in the shape of a common flat boat, and made the claim south of Omaha to which he gave the euphonious appellation "Park Wild." He soon found himself surrounded with difficulties that were likely to deprive him of his hard-earned possessions. The red man became jealous of the approach of his white neighbor and immediately made complaint to the Indian agent, who notified the claimant that if some arrangement could not be made with the owners of the soil he would be compelled to leave. True to his determination to remain and hold fast to that which he has acquired as a claim, Jones applied through Dr. Enos Lowe for a post office commission, and by his assistance this was soon found in the possession of the old pioneer who immediately forwarded his bond and thereby acquired a kind of recognized right, so far as the agent was concerned, to remain unmolested and after paying the Indians the sum of $10 he found himself in quiet and undisturbed possession of his adopted "Park Wild." On the 28th of May, 1854, he erected his post office building amide the shades of the beautiful grove south of what is now Omaha and on that attached a shingle on which was largely printed with an ordinary pencil: "Omaha Post Office, by A. D. Jones." That was the first actual dwelling house erected in this new country, and in what is now the great city of Omaha. There was no mail route and therefore no government mail carrier, so the department authorized the Postmaster to employ a mail carrier and pay him out of the proceeds of the office. No person could be employed on those terms. The Postmaster, however, determined not to be defeated in his aims. He would cross the river and go to Council Bluffs' office on foot and procure the mail for the west and return. The contents of the mail bag was then put into his dilapidated hat and delivered by him to those to whom it belonged. Consequently wherever the Postmaster was found, you were assured that his office was close at hand. September 30, 1854, the Postmaster was advertised in the Arrow to deliver the mail at "Big Six," situated on the northwest corner of Cass and Thirteenth streets, on a considerable rise of ground which has since been reduced to the grade of the street. After other wanderings, the office was placed in the house then being erected for a hotel and afterwards called the Douglas House. The front portion of this house was erected in the fall of 1854 by David Lindley and during the process of its construction Jones made Lindley his deputy Postmaster, not because he had so much to do, but for the reason of having it located at some permanent place, in the city, as it was then termed, although it was but the commencement of a village, containing at that time not more than 100 inhabitants. An ax box was procured and divided into four pigeon holes, and this nailed up on the west side of the front room and became the first regular post office in Omaha City. This however was very insignificant in comparison with the noble structure now standing in Omaha, for the accommodation of 30,000 inhabitants. The management of the office afterwards fell into the hands of a Mormon by the name of Frank, who fled from Fontenelle in consequence of an Indian scare. He kept the mail in a basket in the middle of the floor and each person inquiring for letters would be requested to examine the basket and ascertain for himself. Mr. Jones subsequently resigned his postmastership and recommended Esq. Lindley for that position, who, upon receiving his commission, refused to accept it. Again the Postmaster renewed his exertions to find a successor, but could find none except the Mormon, his deputy, who was then keeping the mail in the open basket. He was recommended and in due time received his commission, thereby relieving Mr. Jones of his official duties. The Mormon, Frank, subsequently sold out to W. W. Wyman, who was commissioned as Postmaster. Mr. Wyman added a room to each end of Frank's house in one of which the office was kept, having for the first time letter boxes, and a very accommodating array of attendants consisting of Wyman and his attentive family of ladies. Mr. Wyman subsequently built the brick building, now occupied by the Republican, into which the post office was moved. T. H. Robertson afterwards succeeded in securing a commission as Postmaster and removed it to a building at the corner of Tenth and Farnam streets. A remonstrance, however, on the part of the citizens re-instated Mr. Wyman. Charles Hamilton was the next to succeed in obtaining the commission as Postmaster, but he, like Robertson, was removed by a remonstrance to the Postoffice Department on the part of the citizens, and Mr. Wyman a second time re-installed. Mr. Hamilton held the office in the building that adjoins the ticket office of H. P. Duel. George Smith was the next Postmaster, who kept the office in the Caldwell Block on Douglas street, probably underneath the Academy of Music. J. H. Kellum was the next person to receive the postoffice commission, and kept the office in the same place as did Mr. Smith. Joel T. Griffin subsequently became the Postmaster and held the office in the latter named locality until the present elegant structure was erected. C. E. Yost then became Postmaster and remained as such until Thomas F. Hall, the present Postmaster, received his commission.

Things have materially changed since those earlier days. Now the post office occupies an immense building erected by the Government in 1873, where a large force of clerks and carriers are employed and an immense business is annually transacted.

The building stands on the corner of Fifteenth and Dodge streets and its erection is due to the efforts of the enterprising citizens of Omaha. At first, there was considerable strife as to its location, but this question was finally settled in May, 1870, when the present site was purchased by property holders in the immediate vicinity for $25,000. The excavation for the cellar and foundation was begun in August following, the concreting for the foundation in October and the corner stone laid in November. In May, 1871, the water table was set and in July of that year work on the superstructure was begun. This proceeded slowly but surely until the completion of the building was reached about July, 1873.

The style of architecture is plain and substantial, yet grand and beautiful in its solid magnificence. In dimensions the building is 122x66, three stories high, the third story being set off to advantage with a Mansard roof. The stone used is from the Buena Vista quarries near Cincinnati, while the iron ornamentation and finishings were supplied by contractors at Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere.

The building was erected according to designs furnished by A. B. Mullett, with Jonas Gise and H. F. Strong as superintendents. Its total cost was $269,000; for the appropriation of which the public are indebted to the efforts of the Hons. John M. Thayer, John Taffe and Senator Hitchcock, and its building was the means of attracting large accessions to the population of Omaha, putting in circulation no inconsiderable sums of money, advanced the price of property and induced the owners of real estate in the vicinity to erect handsome improvements. The basement is occupied by the steam heating apparatus; the first floor by the post office; the second floor by the Internal Revenue office, United States Marshal, United States District Attorney, United States Judges' Chambers and Railway Mail Service. The third story is taken up by the United States court room jury rooms, United States Clerk's office, customs office and postal secret service. The following is the last quarterly statement of the Omaha Post office:

Amount of stamps and envelopes sold.............$74,806.32
Amount paid for clerk hire...................... 14,359.59
Amount paid letter carriers.....................  8,290.00
Amount drawn by railway post office clerks,
 and Government drafts paid.....................202,983.54

                     FREE DELIVERY.

Number of mail carriers employed.................       10
Registered letters delivered by carriers.........   15,224
Mail letters delivered by carriers...............2,245,564
Mail postal cards delivered by carriers..........1,648,764
Local letters delivered by carriers..............  285,785
Newspapers, etc., delivered by carriers..........1,554,845

                  MAIL DEPARTMENT.

Letters and postal cards mailed.................22,310,124
Newspapers mailed...............................10,421,644
Packages of merchandise.........................    75,240


Letters........................................... 972,642
Postal cards....................................... 96,872
Drop letters.......................................810,550
Packages of merchandise............................ 18,560

                 REGISTRY DEPARTMENT.

Letters and packages received...................    23,080
Letters and packages mailed.....................     9,830
Letters and packages in transit.................   116,448
Money order office receipts and disbursements...$4,500,000

The following are the names of the Omaha Post office officials: Thomas F. Hall, Postmaster, O. C. Campbell, Assistant Postmaster; James Woodard, Chief Clerk and Superintendent of Free Delivery; J. U. Gridley, Jr., Assistant Chief Clerk; F. C. Gridley, Chief Clerk of Money Order Department; Thomas Ellingwood, Register Clerk; Miss Clara Southard, Stamp Clerk, J. C. Hoffsted, Mailing Clerk; John McMahon, Forwarding Clerk; H. G. Counsman, Night Clerk; S. Johnson, Night Register Department; Mrs. M. Ellis, General Delivery Clerk; J. B. Furay, Post office Inspector; George L. Seybolt, Post office Inspector; Paul Van Dervoort, Chief Head Clerk of Railway Mail Service. Letter Carriers: C. E. Bruner, J. Michal, J. Jablcencek, A. Peterson. J. H. Platx, G. L. Green, J. H. Tebbins. E. R. Overall, A. R. Henning, B. M. Mohr, George Hoffman and C. H. King.


The order for railway mail service over the Union Pacific R. R. went into effect on May 1, 1867. At that time rails had been laid to North Platte 292 miles west of the Missouri. To handle the mail matter committed to this road four route agents were appointed. Of these the oldest, Maj. D. B. Ball, was transferred from service in Virginia, Capt. George Bailey was a citizen of Omaha, S. Reynolds of Fremont, and A. C. Noteware of Binghamton, N. Y. These men were route agents merely, not opening the packages received and distributing their contents but working only local mail and transferring packages of mail unbroken. For two years after the commencement of the Railway Mail Service it had no chief head clerk but in May, 1868, Maj. Ball was appointed as special agent and in 1869 Chief Head Clerk, remaining in charge until 1870, when he was transferred to duty on the Iowa lines.

In the winter of 1867-68 the first pile bridge was constructed across the Missouri near the Union Pacific shops, and the trains of the Iowa roads ran into the old passenger depot of the Union Pacific on the river bottoms near the present starting point of the overland emigrant trains. This practice of pile-bridging during the time of solid ice in the river was continued till the building of the present iron bridge. Prior to this, however, and during warm weather the mails were crossed on the ferry and hauled to the west bound train on trucks, the work being done under a contract with Mr. George Homan.

At the commencement of the mail service, as has been stated, the rails extended to North Platte. In July of the same year Julesburg was the terminus and a "tent city" of 3,000 inhabitants sprang up as if by magic. In 1869 Laramie City and Cheyenne were in turn terminal stations, and by the close of that season Wahsatch, Utah, had been reached. In the rapid progress of the road Benton, Rock Springs, Green River, Bryon and Evanston had enjoyed the brief glory of being the end of the road. In May, 1869, the golden spike was driven at Promontory, the junction of the Union and Central Pacific roads. With the extension of the line and the harder duty involved, the number of route agents had been steadily increased, and a partial change from route agents to postal clerks effected, and a year from the junction of the two great links of the trans-continental service the Railway Mail Service was entirely in the hands of postal clerks. During the westward extension of the road, the mail which had previously been carried by the coaches of Wells, Fargo & Co., was in all cases carried to the terminal point of the Union Pacific and thence by the old method to the eastern end of the Central Pacific R. R. Evidently it was for the interest of the coach line to retard the progress of the railway and many schemes looking to that end were reported. No serious delay was, however, occasioned at any time.

The life of a route agent was hardly as laborious in point of letter-throwing as that of the postal clerk of to-day, but there was plenty of spice in it to keep the agents of the department wide awake. Postal cars had not penetrated to the frontier to any great extent and the route agent was fortunate if the box car in which he performed his duties was a good one of its class. More than once a flat car was made to do mail duty, and on one occasion a couple of route agents were sent spinning across the country one on either end of a flat car piled with five tons of mail.

Beginning in the summer of 1868 an agent of the department was constantly kept at the end of the road, where, encamped in a tent, he superintended the transfer of the mails from the stages to the cars and vice versa, while in addition to these duties he acted as Postmaster for the local camp which kept pace with the rails.

During the building of the road postal divisions were made at Cheyenne and at Wahsatch, but upon its completion route agents ran the entire distance between Promontory and Omaha until the transfer of forty miles of road between Ogden and Promontory from the Union to the Central Pacific when Ogden was made the western terminus.

In 1867 trains left Omaha on six days of each week but in 1868 a Sunday train was put on the route and is still running.

The service over the recently completed Denver Short Line was begun on the second day of January, 1881, with nine postal clerks. Prior to this time a pouch service had been in operation for several months. Of the nine clerks who handle the mail on this route not one is an addition to the service as all were taken from the main line route under the ruling of the department which allowed the new route on the stipulation that it called for no new force. These men all run through.

Prior to the equipment of the Denver route the main line carried a working force of thirty-four, of whom sixteen ran between Omaha and Kearney and the others to Ogden. At the present time the main line carries thirteen through clerks and twelve on the first division.

Besides its Union Pacific service, the Sixth Division of the Railway Mail Service which has headquarters at Omaha, embraces all of Nebraska, Eastern Colorado, the Black Hills of Western Dakota and the Utah Northern Railway, and sees in all constantly increasing demands, which it is hard work to keep pace with.

In this State the Omaha and Hastings route over the Burlington and Missouri River Railway, which in 1874 extended from Omaha to Kearney, now runs far up the Republican Valley; the Midland Pacific which ran from Nebraska City to Seward now as a division of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, runs from Calvert to Central City and the Atchison and Nebraska Railway has been extended from Lincoln to Columbus. In 1874 the Omaha and Hastings route had the services of three men and Crete branch of one. Now seventeen men are required and their duties are very heavy.

The Sioux City and Pacific Railway, which in 1874 extended to Wisner, has within two years extended its line nearly three hundred miles, and now instead of two men requires four.

The weight of mail carried is a pretty accurate test of the work of the service and the rate of its increase. From the official records we learn that the figures had increased from 10,000 pounds daily in 1874 to over 30,000 daily in 1881, and that a close estimate places the figures at over 35,000 pounds daily in 1882.

The handling of this vast mass of matter with despatch and accuracy is a task requiring ability of the highest order, yet it goes on day and night, seven days in the week, and 365 days in the year, with such accuracy that the least error is a matter of intense surprise to the man of business. Omaha contains much of which she is justly proud, but it would be difficult to find a more worthy subject than its unostentatious mail service.

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